Once a month, Up in the Air director Jason Reitman hosts the Live Read for Film Independent: he picks a classic Hollywood screenplay, recasts it with modern actors and turns them loose for a one-time-only performance. It’s become one of the hottest tickets in Los Angeles – but last night, busy with his upcoming movie Labor Day, Reitman was unable to host his own creation. So he recruited David Wain, the Wet Hot American Summer director, who chose Tootsie as the movie he wanted to revive. (If you’ve never seen the 1982 comedy, all you need to know is that it starred Dustin Hoffman as Michael Dorsey, a difficult actor who can’t land a job until he auditions for a soap opera in disguise as a woman, Dorothy Michaels.) The cast included voice actor Fred Melamed, Hannah Simone of New Girl (replacing Jessica Lange, who won an Oscar for her part), and sinking his teeth into the Dustin Hoffman role, Nick Kroll of The League and Kroll Show. In case you didn’t make it inside the sold-out Bing Theater at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, here’s seven highlights:
1. The brilliant script.
Only three names are credited as writers of the Tootsie screenplay, but in his opening remarks, curator Elvis Mitchell said 14 different writers did 23 drafts. The seams don’t show – even with an unrehearsed (albeit talented) cast, the script remains an indestructible comic engine.
2. A cross-dressing past revealed.
Wain announced that in his youth, he dressed up as Dorothy Michaels for Halloween – and showed a photograph as proof. “That’s almost exactly what my mother looks like,” he observed.
3. A timely tip.
As the cast came onstage, a LACMA staffer helped each of them into a chair. Rob Huebel (who was excellent in the Sidney Pollack role) ostentatiously slipped the staffer a gratuity.
4. A mini-reunion of The State.
If you miss The State, the mid-90s MTV sketch-comedy show featured Wain, this was your night: he pulled in two other members of the show’s ensemble, Thomas Lennon (in the Bill Murray role) and Ken Marino (in the Dabney Coleman role). As a bonus, Wain recruited two members of Childrens Hospital (where he’s an executive producer): Rob Huebel and Zandy Hartig (in the Geena Davis role).
5. An education on the roots of a comic trope.
Remember a few years ago when we reached saturation levels of movies and TV shows including variations on the line “I said good day, sir”? Its use in comedy extends back at least 31 years – it’s featured in Tootsie.
6. A tribute to Bill Murray.
Thomas Lennon isn’t the most famous actor to take over a Bill Murray role in the Live Reads series – Seth Rogen did his Ghostbusters part – but he delivered Murray’s lines with perfect timing and aplomb. “I wish I had a theater that was only open when it rained;” “I think we’re getting into a weird area here;” “That is one nutty hospital.”
7. An eye-opening performance.
Playing the Teri Garr role, Michaela Watkins stole the show: charming, needy and able to pull off giggle-crying. (She also did a demented turn as a hostile nanny.) In general, she was so impressive that we feel obligated to check out Trophy Wife, the ABC sitcom that employs her.