In Tootsie, Jessica Lange played Julie Nichols – a soap-actress who has troubles in her personal life and becomes the best friend of Dorothy Michaels aka Michael Dorsey. Frankly, Julie Nichols is a very thankless part – she is the straight character who could easily get lost compared to Dustin Hoffman’s cross-dressing, Bill Murray’s one-liners or Terri Garr’s neurotic hysterics. Julie Nichols has hardly any jokes, her scenes tend to be more serious and could easily become boring next to the comedic brilliance of others. But personally, I consider Jessica Lange the heart and soul of Tootsie and her role and performance are much more important and challenging than she is usually given credit.
As Julie Nichols, Jessica Lange has to be charming, sexy, smart but naïve, a woman who tries to redefine her life and a love-interest. And she does all this wonderfully. She hast to make us believe that she really thinks Dorothy is a woman but she never appears to be dumb or crazy. Her scenes may lack the comedy that concerns the other characters but she is the reason why Tootsie is not only a comedy but also a very touching study about lonely characters and how they try to get ahead in life. Her role is so essential because the character or Julie is the reason why Michael changes from being cold and arrogant to warm and caring. As he says ‘I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man.’ The innocence and charm that Jessica Lange displays here makes it easy to believe that this is true. And the ending of Tootsie would also never work without Jessica Lange’s wonderful portrayal – it all should be so unbelievable but somehow you have the feeling that Julie could actually forgive Michael for everything he has done to her.
So, Jessica Lange is the emotional glue that holds the story together and provides the most human moments in the movie. Scene like the one after her break-up with Ron, when she tells Dorothy ‘I’m so grateful to have you as a friend and yet at the same time…I never felt lonelier in my whole life’ or her wonderful and heartbreaking moment in the bedroom when she talks about her mother and the wallpaper are very memorable. The latter one is very simple but Jessica Lange shines when she talks. All her memories and dreams are lying in her voice and when she says ‘I made a million planes looking at this wallpaper’, she gives exactly the right feeling of a person who looks at her life and realizes that it is so different from the dreams she had.
Essentially, Jessica Lange gives a complex performance of a simple character. She shines in her scenes (and is not only dramatic but also funny, especially when she says ‘She scares the s**t out of me’ and when she tries to hide her laughter during a scene with Dorothy) and finds the right balance of drama and comedy which contributes enormously to this wonderful movie.