There’s a point in the film Hello My Name is Doris in which you fear something terrible is about to happen Doris. As played by Sally Field, Doris is charming and slightly daffy, wearing bright clothes that almost but not quite match. She’s shy and kind and a closet romantic, so it would seem natural for the film to turn in on itself and make Doris the butt of a really terrible joke. But director Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer, The State) avoids that trap, making a surprisingly sentimental and sweet film about an older woman coming of age post-middle age.
When the film opens, Doris’s mother has just died, leaving Doris to manage alone in her childhood home, which is packed to the rafters with odds and ends and actual garbage—Doris is a hoarder. She’s also the only older person at her job with an American Apparel-like catalog company. Doris has been thoroughly marginalized, which is why it’s a big effing deal when a man half her age helps her with her glasses in a crowded elevator. This man sees her, and her interest in him starts Doris down a path of late-in-life self-discovery.
The young man is John (Max Greenfield doing a Subdued Schmidt), the new art director at the catalog, and Doris quickly fixates on him. Her crush is half very sweet, and half f*cking terrifying. In order to find out more about John, Doris takes the advice of her friend Roz’s (Tyne Daley) granddaughter and ends up catfishing John, which is creepy. But she also forms a real connection within him, even though it might not be exactly what Doris wants. Her pursuit of John leads Doris into the world of Brooklyn hipsters, and soon she’s commuting from Staten Island in order to see more of John.
Field is simply wonderful as Doris. The movie itself is a bit uneven, as Showalter, who co-wrote the script with Laura Terruso, attempts to balance several different tones at once. Hello is part rom-com, part coming of age story, and part The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and it doesn’t always blend together all that well. But Field gets through the rough patches with the sheer power of her performance. Doris is a sad figure, and Field plays her as a certain level of pathetic, but she’s also got a lot of energy and Field gets to have fun, too. There are some funny scenes with Doris, particularly one in which a fashion photographer (SNL’s Kyle Mooney) wants to put her on the cover of an electronica artist’s album.
But Hello is mostly a drama, despite the humor that keep cropping up. As Doris and John’s relationship develops, she begins showing more confidence and her plans to woo John get more complicated until finally it all comes to a head in predictably disastrous fashion. Doris’s romantic life is not played for cheap laughs, and one of the best things about this movie, besides Field’s performance, is how it treats Doris’s evolution into a potential romantic partner for John. Even the mistakes she makes are very relatable and human, it’s just that they’re the kinds of mistakes we expect of twenty-somethings, and not sixty-somethings.
Hello My Name is Doris is an oddball movie about an oddball character. There are shades of Amelie and Happy Go Lucky, but the movie won’t be for everyone. You have to have the patience to get through the uneven bits, and a high threshold of tolerance for awkward moments, because most of the humor is derived from sheer awkwardness. But if you’re up to try something offbeat, Field’s performance makes it well worth your while.
Here is Sally promoting the film in New York this week.