Sally Field bounces back in this story of mismatched love – or a romantic delusion… that is 3/4 charm and 1/4 wishful thinking. The May-October romance isn’t an outright farce like Harold and Maude, so a few of the comic situations are somewhat wince-inducing. Or am I just feeling my own ‘October’ discomfort? Field fans should love it anyway.
Hello, My Name Is Doris
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
2015 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 90 min. / Street Date June 14, 2016 / 26.99
Starring Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Tyne Daly, Beth Behrs, Elisabeth Reaser, Peter Gallagher, Stephen Root, Wendi McLendon-Covey.
Cinematography Brian Burgoyne
Film Editor Robert Nassau
Original Music Brian H. Kim
Written by Laura Terruso, Michael Showalter, from her short film Doris & the Intern
Produced by Daniel Crown, Kevin Mann, Riva Marker, Jordana Mollick, Daniela Taplin Lundberg
Directed by Michael Showalter
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
I’ve always liked Sally Field. Her personality made a dumb ‘sixties TV show about a flying nun halfway pleasant. She showed courage in Bob Rafelson’s Stay Hungry, at a time when she wasn’t considered cool. Norma Rae is a strong movie and I particularly like Places in the Heart. And Ms. Field’s unsung actress mother is on my list of good associations, too. I’ll forgive Ms. Field Not Without My Daughter and a couple of weak bounce-back attempts. Last year’s Hello, My Name Is Doris is a good entry in the comedy-drama subgenre that dares to state that older folks still exist in our still-dismissive youth culture. Even if many of its situations strain credibility, Field is a winning presence. When Bette Davis was sixteen years younger than Field is now, a starring role required her to wear white greasepaint and play a hag. So Sally’s doing fine.
Wouldn’t Hello, My Name Is Doris be a great title for a spaghetti western, with Sally Field playing ‘The Grandmother with No Name?’ Let’s get more creative out there.
Staten Island resident Doris (Sally Field) works as an accounts clerk in Manhattan. She’s sacrificed her adult life taking care of her mother, turning down a marriage proposal to do so. When she’s finally alone, Doris is pressured by her brother and sister-in-law (Stephen Root & Wendi-McLendon-Covey) to sell the house. They also get Doris involved with a doctor (Elisabeth Reaser) who specializes in interventions: both Doris and her mother were borderline hoarders. Doris has a hearty friend in Roz (Tyne Daly), a widow who likes to attend various gatherings where free food is served. Doris is inspired by the tacky self-improvement seminar of Willy Williams (Peter Gallagher): “Remember, ‘impossible’ should really mean, “I’m possible”. When she bumps into the new art director at work, John (Max Greenfield), Doris fantasizes that he’s attracted to her, despite the fact that he’s half her age. Doris isn’t above using subterfuge to interfere with John’s love life and further delude herself that a romance is in bloom. When she finds out that John has a more age-appropriate girlfriend, Brooklyn (Beth Behrs), Doris makes mistakes that will pop her bubble of romantic fantasy.
To me that synopsis sounds like more of a modern tragedy, and Hello is indeed stuck uncomfortably between two kinds of movies. Big sections are a fluffy commercial comedy, where details hardly matter. But the show also wants us to recognize its Doris as a real woman in a realistic situation in modern life. These elements frequently clash.
Our worry starts the moment we see Sally Field’s Doris dressed up as a clueless, nerdy retiree — mismatched colors, silly tourist hat, wild hair. Anybody that has worked in a trendy upscale business office, corporate or not, will also be doubtful about Doris’ work situation. Doris has kept to herself. They say she’s a legacy employee, a holdover from an older era. Although she works with a computer, she’s a stranger to the digital world — she and her peers use landlines and cordless phones. On one level this is fun. When Doris decides to become social again for the sake of her imagined new life with John, she finds herself interacting with a lot of younger people. They’re consistently diverting, even if some of them are reduced to one-theme jokes. One just identifies himself by what color knitted cap he wears. It’s interesting seeing Doris misuse social media, and react to the sex-soaked jargon and constant profanity of the youngsters that suddenly surround her. A techno band asks her to model for their new album cover, which leads to the expected cute ‘I’m dancing’ scene, the kind of silliness at which Field excels. There are hints that the young & cool crowd should be patronizing her to the hilt, but almost none of that happens. Doris’s interaction with an LGBT sewing circle is just clever enough not to be mistaken for an anything-for-an-effect TV level comedy.
The concept and the writin is lively, but not particularly insightful. The crude humor here is so tame as to be almost invisible — Doris and Roz seem shocked at their own ability to use profanity. At least the penis jokes are mild allusions, not in-your-face demonstrations. One running joke in the office is an exaggeration that doesn’t fit the film’s otherwise realistic tone: the annoying office manager swaps all the chairs for posture-enhancing ball-chairs. People bounce as they type at their workstations. Doris is crazy enough to ask John to re-inflate her ball while she’s sitting on it. For a crude ‘let’s get close and start pumping’ gag, it’s fairly cute.
Director Michael Showalter wrote the screenplay with Laura Teruso, expanding on her student film Doris and the Intern. They express the workings of Doris’ mind through a number of fantasy scenes. Her first encounters with John are suddenly incredibly successful — he calls her ‘hot,’ she imagines that he takes his shirt off, etc. Then we cut back to reality and nothing of the kind has happened. On one level this is great, as the movie doesn’t mock older folks for engaging in sex fantasies. Doris keeps her dignity. But watching her drift toward an inevitable social catastrophe makes us uncomfortable. It’s the fact that there are too many lost souls like Doris. We don’t see her getting a grip on herself, and any outcome other than an emotional crash landing just isn’t going to be very credible.
Not to be too cynical, but unless office politics have changed in eight years, Doris’s job situation seems more than a little false. Let me digress. I’ve worked in upscale offices like Doris and John’s. Every office culture is different, but I can’t imagine an employee like Doris keeping her job very long. The discrimination against experienced older workers, mostly women, was rough. Management had ways of eliminating ‘people that ran counter to the company image.’ Is my take on this skewed, or does it seem likely that a funny duck like Doris would be one of the first to be culled from the flock? She has no visible protector, and she doesn’t seem indispensable. Sure, she’s hiding in the accounts department. In more than one job, I felt that people were being let go because Executive so-and-so didn’t like walking by their cubicle.
So in my view Doris’ place of work is exceptionally forgivine, and populated with thoughtful and polite people, most of them sweet and cute, that don’t roll their eyeballs at Doris’s awkwardness. It’s meant to be broad comedy, but I know of no corporate atmosphere that would tolerate Doris’s behavior when she’s pursuing John. She barges into meetings, shouts out across the cubicles, and interrupts a big boss when he’s on the phone. Nobody seems aware of Doris’ blatant attraction to John. The broad situations are at odd with the supposedly realistic setting.
Outside the office things improve. If Doris has noise-resistant ears, I guess she could survive a techno concert. John’s music friends and office co-workers might think she’s cute and be sincerely friendly. But we hear no snide remarks and see few condescending reactions. I think it’s a bit of a fairy tale that social interaction is this benign — this must be some kind of miracle youth world where nobody is maliciously insecure, or overly competitive. The gallery of quirky young people Doris talks with – everybody is assigned an odd quality — is fairly charming. Maybe the idea is to make young hipster kids seem less scary to dotty old ladies? Honestly, I’ve not seen this much open-mindedness, good manners and social acceptance across various generational barriers, not when I was in my twenties and certainly not now. Hello, My Name Is Doris is strained even if its heart is in a very good place.
Or am I just too cynical? Hello, My Name Is Doris isn’t trying to be a documentary about older folks in the working world. The show sketches Doris’s home life well. The actions of the domineering brother and his vicious wife are no exaggeration if you’ve seen how vultures relatives behave when they smell a possible inheritance. Some of the scenes with Tyne Daly’s Roz are very good, especially her feelings of abandonment when Doris opts for a Thanksgiving party with John.
So what about this May-October romance? Sally Field is of course still very attractive when she dolls herself up. The tight pants Doris wears in the record album photo session scene reveal that she is actually in great shape. When she smiles, those beautiful, perfect teeth are not those of a woman who has been neglecting herself for thirty years while nursing her mother. Max Greenfield’s John is a dream guy in a romantic fantasy, so deserves to be cut some slack. A professional in a tough business, he has the open face and sweet smile of someone under a lot less pressure. As a Prince Charming he looks like a nicer Tom Cruise, with a bright smile that could belong to a teenager. He’s sweet, reasonable, patient, and still comes off as a wish-fulfillment fantasy. The movie is basically about a relationship that Doris misinterprets as a romance. That Doris isn’t devastated by her delusion is a miracle dodged mostly through Sally Field’s engaged performance.
Hello, My Name Is Doris is not convincing enough to be a crossover hit, and I didn’t see it attracting the older-audience buzz enjoyed by, for example, Meryl Streep’s not-bad comedy-drama about a sexless marriage, Hope Springs. Yet, Sally Field keeps it alive, making it more than watchable and often more fun than we’d expect. Her fans will find it wholly satisfying.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray of Hello, My Name Is Doris is a fine encoding of this Red Camera digital show. The good production values come across well, both sound and picture.
The director commentary with Michael Showalter takes us through the development of the script and his and Ms. Teruso’s efforts to get the film made — it’s nice that Sally Field’s interest in the project counted for so much. Showalter is an experienced writer and director, mostly from television. Many of his comments indicate a pragmatic approach to screenwriting. He says right off that the rotten brother and sister-in-law characters are only there to make Doris more sympathetic. He points out where scenes were filmed — a lot of them in Los Angeles, not New York.
Twenty-five minutes of deleted scenes add some nice touches but would have made the movie outstay its welcome. Yet it’s good to see the film’s original opening, which shows Doris caring for her aged mother. Anybody who has taken care of a parent at the end will react to this scene. When my baby-boomer generation clogs the end-of-life healthcare system (assuming it’s not dismantled) I bet this theme will become much more common in the culture: “What the heck do we do with Mom and Dad?” It was perhaps wise of Hello, My Name Is Doris to drop the alternate take-care-of-Mom scene, in favor of the more lighthearted opening that establishes Doris as a borderline kook.
Hello, My Name Is Doris looks like a project bankrolled by multiple companies, that gathered support and money in a slow development process. I note that the credits list five full producers. How do they handle the Oscar nomination problem, when the Academy only accepts four? Do you suppose one unlucky producer (probably the one who did the work) had to sign a contract accepting that they’ll be passed over? Not that it’s relevant to this show, just curious.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Hello, My Name Is Doris Blu-ray
Movie: Good enough
Supplements: Director commentary, alternate opening and deleted scenes
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 3, 2016
Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson