Credit: Everett Collection

If EW had been around 25 years ago, we’d have had a field day with Tootsie‘s behind-the-scenes drama. The comedy — about an actor (Dustin Hoffman) so desperate for work he dresses as a woman to land a role on a soap — was plagued by rewrites, budget overruns, and arguments between the star and director Sydney Pollack. But sometimes a movie’s turmoil isn’t a sign of impending doom so much as one of impending brilliance: Tootsie earned 10 Oscar nods (Gandhi beat it for Best Picture) and remains a masterful farce.

”A Better Man,” the engrossing new three-part doc on this 25th-anniversary DVD, doesn’t try to rewrite history: It details both the creative duel and the challenge to transform Hoffman into a believable woman (production halted for a week over makeup that made his Dorothy Michaels look green). An early screen test shows Dorothy pre-Southern accent, and a new interview finds Hoffman reduced to tears over playing an unattractive woman: ”[Men] look at me and I disappear. It’s awful…to be just erased.” Clearly, the film’s struggles were in service of a perfectionist actor crafting a character much like himself.

Shifting gender roles — and a bit of gay panic — were in the air circa 1982, and Hollywood worked through it with Tootsie and other cross-dressing comedies: Victor/Victoria, Bosom Buddies, Yentl (okay, not a comedy, but funny, right?). As love interest Julie (Jessica Lange) asks Hoffman’s Dorothy, ”Don’t you find being a woman in the ’80s complicated?” You can say that again, sister. A-

  • Movie
  • 119 minutes