REVIEW: Hello, My Name Is Doris [2016]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 95 minutes | Release Date: March 11th, 2016 (USA)
Studio: Stage 6 Films / Roadside Attractions
Director(s): Michael Showalter
Writer(s): Laura Terruso & Michael Showalter / Laura Terruso (short film Doris & the Intern)

“I’m possible”

Welcome to the world Doris Miller (Sally Field). It’s been too long—forty years to be exact—since you were free to roam unencumbered by self-imposed responsibilities and familial guilt no one was willing to spend the time to help alleviate. Yes, Doris has been fridged from social interaction for four decades as she quietly took the ferry from Staten Island each day to work at a company that gradually got younger and younger until she was past out-of-touch and just plain lost. She did this because she devoted her life to caring for her ailing mother while brother Todd (Stephen Root) got an education, wife, and family of his own. But now mom has passed and life can finally begin. Again.

This is Hello, My Name Is Doris, a cute indie comedy directed and co-written by Michael Showalter along with Laura Terruso upon whose short film Doris & the Intern proved the inspiration. It’s a sweetly uplifting story of a woman so removed from life that it actually isn’t difficult to re-assimilate into the social consciousness of youth despite being sixty-something. Some of her appeal surely lies in her anachronism, but there’s also an infectious vitality that simply makes people want to get to know her. Is it her fault the people flocking to her side are empty shell hipsters who name-drop LGBT craft circles to sound hip rather than empathetic? No. The object of her newfound affection just happens to be one of them.

He is John Fremont (Max Greenfield), a thirty-something Los Angeles transplant moved/promoted to Art Director of Doris’ company’s New York branch. He shows her a wry sense of kindness in the elevator on his first day that captures her attention, an allure she cannot shake with little else to think about upon returning home to an empty house her sister-in-law Cynthia (Wendi McLendon-Covey) would like to clean of the Miller family matriarchs’ hoarding clutter so it can be sold. But what does Doris know about dating let alone twenty-first century dating? If she’s to have any hope winning John’s affections she’ll need a teacher. And who better to fill that role than best friend Roz’s (Tyne Daly) thirteen-year old Facebook-obsessive granddaughter Vivian (Isabella Acres)?

Commence with the charm, Mr. Showalter. Suddenly this shy, awkward nobody everyone in the office ignores—a holdover from a distant past punching in data entries while they move the company into the future—transforms into a bubbly school girl with a crush she cannot hide. Being twice the object of her desire’s age, however, makes it so no one realizes she can’t. Only we in the audience know what Doris’ expressions and actions mean beneath the surface and only we can anticipate the harsh reality that will inevitably sink in once the intoxication of misunderstood reciprocation fades away. But even we cannot languish in the what-ifs or depression on the horizon because this woman is having so much fun. Screw assumptions, maybe she can make this work.

How can you not become enraptured in Doris’ innocent glee when John notices the CD of his favorite band on her desk thanks to some light Facebook stalking? How can you not grin ear-to-ear when said band’s lead singer (played by Bleachers and Fun. member Jack Antonoff) asks if she’ll be the cover model for his next album? Somehow Doris becomes the spirit animal of a youth solely invested in being hipper than their neighbor because she’s the living embodiment of hipster chic. She’s vintage stock from a bygone era whose literal quaint lifestyle led with veritable ease mimics the trying-too-hard re-appropriation sought by those too cool to be themselves. Knitting and blueberry baked goods have become earmarks of popularity and Doris Miller is their queen.

But while we laugh at the juxtaposition, she lets it whoosh over her head. The reason she’s engaging with these people and partying to all hours of the night is because it gets her closer to John—who’s already in a relationship with aspiring singer/songwriter Brooklyn (Beth Behrs). So while everyone falls in love with her retro sensibilities and we fall in love with her cute as a button infiltration into their cliquish existence, the storm cloud of reality gradually moves in closer above us. Eventually this ruse that John could ever love her back will shatter. It has to, right? I guess one of Doris’ daydreams of illicit physical contact might reveal itself to be true. Or maybe she’ll just end up hurt beyond repair.

The answer really is up in the air because despite the movie being very funny and endearing, there’s a lot more complexity outside the comedy. There’s the sub-plot of Doris needing to escape an oppressive past metaphorically depicted by the stuffed-to-the-gills house of magazines and duck sauce packets alongside the guilt-ridden sympathy and fear harbored beneath brother Todd’s manufactured exterior. There’s the mid-life crisis occurring twenty years too late, an implosion Roz sees so plainly and yet is helpless to prevent once puppy love’s ability to mask the truth digs its claws in. Doris is treading water while the joy of hanging around John and his young friends is palpable and authentic—enough to let her guard down. But there’s more at stake than her happiness alone.

This realization’s important even if many periphery characters are throwaway comic relief that could have been merged together (Natasha Lyonne, Kumail Nanjiani, and Rich Sommer). It’s not all about Doris because we care for her the most. We want her to find what she seeks but never forget the path tread leaves collateral damage. Luckily for her those who love her unconditionally are willing to bounce back when needed after her existential adventure burns a few bridges. Luckily for us Field brilliantly breathes life into this central naïve, frustrated, sympathetic, delusional, and honest central character. Building a leading role for a sixty-year old woman is extremely rare and Field doesn’t squander the opportunity. She’s as good as ever and the film proves worthy of the effort.

[1] Sally Field in HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS. Photo credit: Aaron Epstein
[2] Natasha Lyonne and Sally Field in HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS. Photo credit: Aaron Epstein
[3] Beth Behrs and Max Greenfield in HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS. Photo credit: Seacia Pavao

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