Doris (Sally Field) has recently lost her mother after many years of caring for her. This meant Doris put her own life on hold as her brother Todd (Stephen Root) went to college and started a business and a family with wife Cynthia (Wendi McLendon-Covey). Doris has a job in accounting at a clothing company. She runs into John Fremont (Max Greenfield), a new employee, on the elevator ride up to the office and is instantly smitten with him. Doris knows their age and experience difference makes a relationship with John impossible but she cannot get him off her mind. While attending a talk by motivational speaker Willy Williams (Peter Gallagher) with her best friend Roz (Tyne Daly), Doris decides to take his advice and turn “impossible” into “I’m possible” and approach John. Not knowing exactly how, Doris gets advice from Roz’s 13-year old granddaughter and sets up a fake Facebook profile and asks to be friends with John. He accepts giving Doris full access to his information including what music he listens to and the places he’s been. Doris uses this information to become closer with John including showing up at a concert of electronica artist Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winters (Jack Antonoff). Not only is Doris spending more time with John but she’s also discovering a whole new world of people and ideas she never knew existed. Doris feels more alive than she has in years; but this newfound life is putting a wedge between her and Roz as well as causing Doris to ignore the cluttered state of her home and the hording tendencies of her late mother that she is continuing.
“Hello, My Name is Doris” is both uproariously funny and emotionally devastating. It takes a look at a largely ignored section of the US population, those over 60, and shines a light on how society and pop culture views this massive segment of American life is irrelevant. The film’s main protagonist eventually learns to stand up for herself and say “Look at me! I matter!” despite what her co-workers and the rest of life might think. It also flips on its head the common trope of an older man becoming involved with a younger woman and makes us reconsider how we react to that pairing. The movie is somewhat subversive in that way and I really liked it.
Sally Field will probably be ignored for an acting Oscar when awards time rolls around again but she shouldn’t. This is an amazing performance from an actress that has won two Oscars for her work in “Norma Rae” and “Places in the Heart.” Had the film been released later in the year, Ms. Field might need to clean off a place on her mantle for a third. Field is mesmerizing as Doris. Part of the performance is the wardrobe choices made for the character. Wearing clothes that look 40 years out of date, with her hair piled on top of her head (including a wig) and kitty-eye glasses, Field embodies what looks to be a stereotypical cat lady (the character does have one cat). Meek and timid, sometimes living in a fantasy world where John sweeps Doris off her feet, Field wrings every bit of life and emotion she can out of a character that might have very easily been two-dimensional caricature. Field makes Doris a worthy underdog that the audience roots for. I sat in my seat in the theatre trying to figure out a way Doris and John could be together that would work emotionally for the audience and make some kind of sense for the characters. I wanted them to live happily ever after and that much personal investment by me can be fully credited to Sally Field’s performance.
Max Greenfield is also excellent as John. While annoyed and confused at first by Doris’ attentions, John begins to see more in his co-worker than an eccentric old woman. Greenfield is a flexible actor that can mold himself to fit the character he plays. Whether it is Schmit on “New Girl,” Nick on “Ugly Betty” or Gabriel on the latest season of “American Horror Story,” Greenfield is able to modify himself to fit what the character needs. That may sound like acting 101 but not all actors are able to fully immerse themselves in a character like Greenfield. His performance as John is a perfect everyman. John is not spectacular in any way and yet Greenfield makes him a character I wanted to know more about.
The rest of the supporting cast, Kumail Nanjiani, Rich Sommer, Natasha Lyonne, Elizabeth Reaser, Beth Behrs and those previously mentioned, round out Doris’ world in a full and believable way. Not everyone is terribly likable with her co-workers barely knowing anything about Doris and hardly considering her worth the effort to get to know, her brother and sister-in-law considering her more of a nuisance than a family member and the rest of the world largely being unaware of her existence. While many of the supporting cast gets only minimal screen time they do the most with their performances with a particular standout being Kumail Nanjiani who turns his character Nasir into one that usually has a shining bit of dialog.
“Hello, My Name is Doris” turns the May-December romance on its head with the older woman perusing the younger man. For some reason we believe there’s no way a young man would be the least bit interested in an older woman. While society doesn’t seem to have the same issue with an older man chasing a younger woman the reverse is almost seen as more shocking or taboo and I don’t get it since I think both are gross. While I enjoyed the movie a great deal the idea of such a large age difference in a romantic couple (between the actors it is 34 years) kind of gives me the willies. I personally would much rather be with someone romantically near my own age as that person would have similar life experiences. Dating someone much younger, while it might be exciting in the short term, would probably mean having a huge difference in life references like Paul McCartney being in a couple of bands that formed, were hugely successful and broke up before this relative child was born. Dating someone significantly older might mean having only a few years of good health before the aged partner might need long term health care. It doesn’t seem fair to the younger partner to be saddled with something as demanding as caring for a sickly mate.
Another thing the movie explores is how those entering their “Golden Years” are often ignored and forgotten about. That is especially damning for Hollywood since most actors, once they reach a certain age, are relegated to supporting roles. There aren’t many movies starring an identifiably older actor. Those that do are usually surrounded by a much younger cast as is the case in “Hello, My Name is Doris.” What this movie does to counteract that is to make most of the younger characters vacuous and self-centered. During the post-concert party Doris attends with John, she encounters several people who share with her their love of making their own chocolate and other pursuits that sound so hipster you expect to see a beard and fedora magically appear on their faces and heads. Her co-workers are equally clueless to the point of being unaware Doris’ mother had recently died. They are so wrapped up in their own lives and keeping up with the latest trends they have no time or interest in Doris. It takes John asking questions about her for the rest of the staff to realize she is a person. It is quite an indictment on the self-absorbed nature of our social media-obsessed culture.
“Hello, My Name is Doris” is rated R for language. The F-Bomb gets dropped enough to turn a PG-13 movie into an R; however, the majority of the language is concentrated in two scenes.
I really needed to see “Hello, My Name is Doris” after the cacophonous disaster that was “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” It is a simple movie about people with exaggerated but believable problems that don’t need to punch someone or blowup a building to tell a story. It is the perfect antidote to blockbuster fatigue. It may wrap up a little too neatly; but “Hello, My Name is Doris” is still a mature look at modern love complicated by time and a little mental illness. I’d take a little film like this over a dozen polished Hollywood epics.
“Hello, My Name is Doris” gets five stars.
A comedy and a first-person action flick open this week. I’ll be on vacation but I just might drop in to a nearby multiplex to watch and then review one of the following:
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