Hello, My Name is Doris (2016)

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Directed by Michael Showalter
Written by Michael Showalter and Laura Terruso

Rated R

Sally Field as Doris Miller
Max Greenfield as John Fremont
Tyne Daly as Roz
Beth Behrs as Brooklyn
Stephen Root as Todd
Wendi McLendon-Covey as Cynthia
Elizabeth Reaser as Dr. Edwards
Isabella Acres as Vivian
Natasha Lyonne as Sally
Kumail Nanjiani as Nasir

It would be easy to refer to Hello, My Name is Doris as a career-capper for star Sally Field. After all, she’s been a working actress for more than 50 years. She endeared herself to audiences in 1960s television comedies Gidget and The Flying Nun. In 1976, she commanded more attention with a dramatic turn in the miniseries Sybil, which earned her an Emmy. Three years later she won her first of two Best Actress Oscars for Norma Rae. She worked steadily throughout the 1980s and 1990s (who doesn’t know her from Mrs. Doubtfire and Forrest Gump?), but her last big screen leading role was 1996’s violent revenge drama Eye for an Eye. In recent years, she had a five-year stint on ABC’s Brothers & Sisters (another Emmy), and she played Aunt May in the two most recent Spider-Man movies.

After seeing Field in Doris, one would hope there are still decades of delightful performances in her future. She is a sweet, comic wonder as Doris Miller, a sixty-something office worker who, as the film opens, is mourning the loss of her elderly, invalid mother in Staten Island, NY. Her brother Todd (Stephen Root, so great in Office Space and Cedar Rapids) and his shrill, domineering wife (Wendi McLendon-Covey, Bridesmaids) encourage Doris to overcome her hoarding habits and sell the family home. Doris rejects the suggestion, but the sad resignation on her face illustrates Doris’s attachment to inanimate objects, perhaps to mask her loneliness.

Doris does have friends. Her best pal, Roz (a bright and winning Tyne Daly), is the voice of reason we all need. Her advice is straightforward and heartfelt, with a lilt of comic verve that only an actress of Daly’s caliber can deliver.

The mundane existence of Doris’s everyday life in interrupted with an unexpected interaction. Doris is excited to the story of the encounter with Roz and Roz’s 13-year-old granddaughter Vivian (Isabelle Acres). Her company’s new art director, John Fremont (Max Greenfield, in a winning change of pace from his role on television’s New Girl), has beguiled Doris, despite the fact that she’s easily old enough to be his mother. They first meet on an office elevator, where John compliments Doris’s spectacles. Roz supports her friend’s excitement, but scoffs at any potential pursuit of the younger man. But young Viv thinks it’s cool, and she helps Doris create a fake Facebook page. This scene is a real hoot. [Note to casting directors: cast Daly in more roles.]

Doris begins to cyber stalk John, and she soon discovers his favorite band is an electro-pop group called Baby Goya. Doris learns there is a Baby Goya concert locally, and when she arrives she conveniently runs into John. Of course, Doris’s attire must be seen to be believed, and her coolness is a hit with the millennial crowd, thrilled to see an older person embracing their laid-back way of life. Doris and John get to know one another better, and Doris even exposes her vulnerability by sharing with John a long-ago engagement that failed to lead to marriage. This confession leads Doris to verbalize her frustration with her brother and his wife for taking advantage of her for so long. In these scenes, we are reminded of Field’s vibrant ability to combine poignant comedy with insightful drama (think the cemetery scene in Steel Magnolias, but toned down a bit).

Inevitably, Doris learns John has a girlfriend. She’s the daffy but lovable Brooklyn (Beth Behrs of TV’s 2 Broke Girls), and despite Doris’s eventual affection for Brooklyn, Doris ultimately makes a misguided decision in her flawed attempts to get closer to John. I love films that portray good people with flaws; even better when the film has the courage to explore the flaws and the consequences. Think Doris is off the hook for attempting to sabotage the John/Brooklyn romance? I’m not saying anymore.

It makes sense there’s an indie flavor to Doris, as directed by Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer). As Field’s Mama Gump might say, “indie is as indie does.” The film is filled with loveably quirky characters, which adds to the overall effect of Doris. The flavorful and eclectic supporting cast includes Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black), Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley), and Elizabeth Reaser (the Twilight saga).

It’s thrilling that a film, headlined by Field (age 69) and Daly (age 70) is being released into theatres (and not directly to iTunes/streaming). It will play well in independent theatres, and fans of Field and Daly will love it. I did.

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