Nostalgically, the baby-boomer generation that had grown up with two-time Oscar winning actress Sally Field (“Norma Rae,” “Places in the Heart”) will identify and sympathize with her quirky turn as the sixty-something working stiff Doris Miller trying to fit into a youth-oriented world while pursuing love and companionship in co-writer/co-producer/director Michael Showalter’s ambitious but uneven and predictable dramedy romancer, Hello, My Name is Doris. While it has its affecting and truthful moments, the film cannot overcome its formulaic foundations despite Field’s winning portrayal of an adorable yet isolated aging woman looking to charm the pants off of her young, studly object of affection co-worker.
At its core, Hello, My Name is Doris aims to comically tackle the realm of feminine-based age biases particularly in the areas of romanticism and the workplace crawling with opportunistic twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings. Interestingly, a Hollywood movie spotlighting the plight of the mature and lonely woman is a bit ironic considering the intrinsic aversion that Tinsel Town has creatively when it comes to catering to the interests of projects geared toward the ignored demographic of the over 40 movie-going market. The notable roles for established actresses over age 50 are far and between, but the still fetching Field was able to headline an off-kilter vehicle that plays to her on-screen awkwardness with delightful aplomb. It is too bad that Hello, My Name is Doris staggers a bit while still acquiescing to a young crowd’s slight notion of what it is like to be an overlooked oldster “trying to fit in.”
Field plays the aforementioned ditzy Doris Miller, a somewhat sheltered sixty-something woman whose whole life was devoted to taking care of her mother in their cluttered Staten Island home. Unfortunately, Doris’s mother soon passes away leaving the surviving daughter/caretaker a lonely soul stuck in a hoarder house filled with heaps of personalized junk tossed every which way. Doris’s brother Todd (Stephen Root, “Trumbo”) and his uptight wife Cynthia (Wendi McLendon-Covey, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”) worry about Doris’s mental state and what is to become of the family homestead. Todd’s solution is for Doris to sell the house and relocate elsewhere. This is easier said than done because a.) Doris is awkwardly reserved around people b.) the house is unattractive — any prospective buyer will be turned off instantly with the squalor courtesy of Doris’s hoarding tendencies and c.) Doris will never part with her collected clutter.
Professionally, Doris is a bookkeeper at a Manhattan design firm and is surrounded by youthful co-workers that could pass for her own children and perhaps grandchildren. The one golden day arrives during a packed elevator ride when Doris bumps into the handsome 30-year old John (Max Greenfield, “The Big Short”) who graces her with a million dollar smile. Instantly, Doris’s heart flutters as she is mesmerized by the hunky pup that generously offered that special smile for her and her only. The pleasurable John turns out to be the new head of design at the company. So the question remains: How can Doris follow up on her sudden immense crush for her yummy-looking young boss?
Doris’s look on life is refreshed courtesy of her wide-eyed attraction for John and this does not quite sit right with her opinionated best friend Roz (played by multi-Emmy winner Tyne Daly from TV’s “Cagney & Lacey,” “Judging Amy” and “Christy”). However, the one who seems supportive of Doris’s willingness to think “young” and nab her boy-toy boss is Roz’s teen granddaughter Vivian (Isabella Acres, “Sister”). Vivian introduces Doris to the world of social media and sets up a misleading Facebook account so that it is easy to track John and focus on what his interests are at large. Thankfully, the Facebook facade works as Doris’s alias leads to her going to a concert featuring John’s favorite band playing at the venue. This endears the older Doris not only to John but to all the other frenzied young people there that get an embracing kick out of her. Alas, Doris has broken out of her shell and is having an absolute ball.
The crafty kid Vivian was not the only individual that influenced the socially inept Doris to liberate herself from the domestic doldrums she previously experienced. An unctuous motivational guru Willie Williams’ (Peter Gallagher, “Burlesque”) lecture and personal advice challenges Doris to seize the moment and pursue her dreamboat John without reservation. Plus, Doris’ interactive sessions with a therapist (Elizabeth Reaser, “Young Adult”) is an eye-opener as she is instrumental in addressing the psychological issues behind her hoarding practices. Still, the outspoken Roz feels that Doris’s breakout mode into acting “not age appropriate” is a major concern and the two best buddies get into a bickering showdown over the matter.
Hello, My Name is Doris is based on the short film “Doris & the Intern” by the film’s co-writer Laura Terruso. Although there is a poignant zaniness to Field’s off-the-wall Doris as the by-the-numbers scripting and direction parades her through the seriocomic motions, Showalter’s nutty narrative never quite seems to support the transitional overtones of its silliness versus questionable seriousness. The confusion permeates the scattershot story because we are never able to pinpoint the focal point of Doris Miller’s sorrowful existence. Sure, Doris is complicated in many ways and that is certainly a valid given. Nevertheless, Hello, My Name is Doris feels as if it is following a blocked path of pathos and playfulness, but is never really being able to marry the two concepts solidly in smoothed unison. One moment Doris is vulnerably lonely and loopy then skips to curiously becoming demented in her stalking habits of her beloved John while showing signs of manufactured desperation that threatens her original charming oddball characterization. Showalter gives it the good ole college try (as does Field obviously) in trying to give the quietly dejected Doris Miller a colorful complexity, but the lightweight material comes off as somewhat manipulative and clichéd. Some may buy the transformation of “Doris the Helpless” to “Doris the Hipster” with noted approval but others may feel this as undermining the genuine message about Doris’ age alienation and societal acceptance.
Field absolutely shines though, as the sad-eyed and clumsy Doris who finds rejuvenation in love and laughter after being buried in sacrificial solitude while chained to a sickly mother and health-hazardous household. The supporting cast are inspired in their own right too. It is a crying shame that Daly’s feisty widowed Roz and Root’s incredulous Todd could not have been utilized more within the movie’s animated proceedings. Also a welcomed presence is Beth Behrs (from TV’s “Two Broke Girls”) as Doris’s friendly rival Brooklyn, John’s age-appropriate girlfriend who has what Doris vehemently wants — John of course!
Hello, My Name is Doris is indeed a good greeting for introduction, but as a sturdy and consistent character study it never quite gels although the always resourceful veteran Sally Field is a welcoming, timeless selling point.
April 29, 2016 @ 7:48 am Tam
It is a shame that there aren’t more middle aged based movies. I always look forward to seeing them when they rarely come out. The writers never know what to do with older characters. They are either not acting their age or depressed and or goofy. As you said Sally Fields is always a selling point and that in itself will get me to see this film. Nice review by the way.