“Hello, My Name is Doris” is a delightful little film that should appeal to a wide range of audiences. It’s a pleasant, upbeat, easily accessible indie movie. The subject matter could’ve easily taken a turn and gone in the opposite, much darker direction, but director and co-writer Michael Showalter manages to keep the tone positive — and that positivity is contagious.
Sally Field plays the titular character Doris, an endearing crazy cat lady type who, at the advice of a slick motivational speaker (Peter Gallagher), decides to romantically pursue a much younger coworker John (Max Greenfield). Taking the mantra “I’m possible,” Doris enlists the help of her best friend’s teenage granddaughter (Isabella Acres, channeling a young Amy Schumer) and sets out to win John’s heart.
I know the premise sounds a bit groan-inducing, and it doesn’t help that misfit Doris is a textbook wacky-looking lonleyheart hoarder who wears a hairpiece and is decked out in ratty vintage clothing. Initially overlooked by her younger coworkers, Doris gradually sheds her office invisibility in a series of “Forrest Gump” style situations. (One of the best: after pretending to like the same band as the object of her affection, Doris attends a hip electronic show and is later invited backstage, which leads to a gig posing for an album cover).
Doris’ old-school style appeals to the younger city hipsters, and she soon finds herself embedded in their world and quickly adopted as their mascot. Somehow, Field manages to keep Doris eccentric and quirky without being coyly annoying (she’s someone you’d actually want to hang out with). Underneath all of Doris’ slightly neurotic exterior lies a complex sadness that’s handled with a thoughtful tenderness throughout the film. I especially loved the nice little riff on loneliness and shattered dreams (a weighty subject that’s addressed with care but never gets too serious).
The movie stumbles a bit from its uneven tone but recovers quickly. The story shifts between comedy and drama but eventually settles on unconventional comedy, which is what what keeps things working. The humor is very subjective but if you are familiar with or are a fan of director Showalter’s previous acting, writing and directing work (“Wet Hot American Summer,” “Stella,” “The Baxter” and my personal favorites, “Childrens Hospital” and “The State“), you’ll find more than a few hearty laughs. Not only is it funny, it’s also kindhearted and not one bit mean-spirited. It isn’t a game changer for the genre, but it’s enjoyable and it works.
There’s no doubt that Doris is a pitiful character, but the film doesn’t dwell on the anguish nor attempt to manipulate the audience in order to elicit pity. Instead, it revels in the celebration of the odd, the elderly, and finding the courage to realize that it’s never too late to grab life by the horns. We only live once, after all.
Come sit next to me, pour yourself some tea — and I’ll tell you what I thought about “Hello, My Name is Doris.”
Doris (Sally Field) is a sixty-something accountant working in a New York clothing business who embodies the word “mousy.” A holdover employee from the company’s past, Doris is surrounded by people thirty- and forty-years her junior and doesn’t quite fit in. Doris serves her time at the office and at night goes back to the home she shares with her mother. When the movie opens, Doris’s mother has died, and Doris (who never married or found a partner) finds herself at a crossroads. She develops a crush on a handsome young executive at her company, discovers social media, and experiences a personal rebirth — much to the frustration of her lifelong friends Roz and Val (played by Tyne Daly and Caroline Aaron).
People see one thing when they look at Doris, and for most of her life she’s allowed herself to be defined by that. But everyone deserves the chance to reinvent themselves — no matter how late in life. Age is a state of mind, and “acting your age” is a useless phrase invented by people who themselves are afraid of change. Doris, on the other hand, pushes boundaries and defies expectations – most importantly, her own. There’s something admirable and inspiring about that, and we can all learn a lesson or two about pushing outside of the boxes that we have put ourselves in: it’s hard, and sometimes it can be painful, but taking risks and pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones can make our lives so much fuller.
While not (strictly speaking) a comedy, there’s lots of humor in “Hello, My Name is Doris,” but humor of a very specific kind. Even though we saw the film with a packed house, Louisa and I felt like we had to stifle our laughter at some point because no one else in the audience was laughing, to the point where we became incredibly self-conscious about it. Early in the movie, Doris and friends visit a motivational speaker filled with hilariously tired and empty platitudes disguised as deep wisdom – and she’s actually motivated by them. Later, she mingles with hipsters who talk endlessly about their artisanal, handmade, farm-to-table whatevers who see Doris’s making muffins from a premixed bag as transcendently different – Doris embodies the vintage lifestyle that they are so desperately trying to emulate. This stuff is comedy gold, but not in a the traditional sense. In other words, you have to have a very specific sense of humor to think this stuff is funny.
Sally Field perfectly portrays Doris, and her performance is easily the standout. Director Michael Showalter – he of sketch comedy fame – has a deft touch with the subject matter and captures the humanity of all of his characters, teasing out comedic moments without making fun of these people outright. While it’s far from perfect, “Hello, My Name is Doris” is what independent film is all about: fresh and inventive storytelling, created without the limits of focused-grouped rewrites designed to play to the largest audience possible.