I neglected to watch “Hello, My Name is Doris” until its recent release on DVD, although I’ve wanted to see it since before it came briefly through theaters. Sally Field brings a strand of strength to Doris, a character that could have been pathetic. Instead, she is inspiring.
Doris has spent her life caring for her mother. When her mother passes away, it seems she might retreat further into herself and become even more of a hoarder than before. When a dashing, friendly young man (Max Greenfield) comes to work at her office, she is smitten. The twist is that she inadvertently fits in with John and his friends because the way she dresses and the things she loves unironically (knitting, weird glasses, funky sweaters) are also popular among the hip youngsters and young hipsters in Brooklyn. She becomes a sort of mascot, and we’re in suspense waiting for someone to take advantage of Doris’s naiveté.
In the hands of writer/director Michael Showalter, and of course, Sally Field, Doris maintains an element of dignity, even when she’s dressed in a neon outfit to attend an electronica show in order to run into John. On one hand she is a mousy woman with cat-eye glasses and a big fake ponytail, but on the other hand, she is going after what she wants, even though her pursuit of a handsome guy several decades her junior is unlikely to end well for her. Her bravery in the face of absurdity is quite touching. It also walks the line between positive thinking and delusional thinking.
Showalter, familiar from the ‘90s comedy show “The State” and “Wet, Hot American Summer,” is on a dramedy streak with this film and his television series “Search Party,” which is more ambivalent and less emotional than “Hello, My Name is Doris” but both projects have interesting female leads and I highly recommend them.
(“Search Party” is a millennial Nancy Drew mystery set in New York City, and Alia Shawkat is surprisingly complicated as a young woman searching for a missing girl, and also searching for meaning in her own life.)
“Hello, My Name is Doris” features several comic flights of fancy, but is ultimately realistic in terms of a happy ending. That the growth shown by Doris is believable makes it all the more uplifting. The supporting cast, especially Tyne Daly as Doris’ longtime best friend, is great, and it’s gratifying to see their many well-written scenes together, full of details that fill in their time together.
Meanwhile, Doris’ brother (Stephen Root) and his nasty wife (Wendi McLendon-Covey) unearth years of pain in Doris’ past when they try to get her to throw away all the stuff she and their mother filled up their house with over the years. Her devotion to her mother may have seemed selfless, but several heartbreaking revelations inform us that it was not in Doris’ own best self interest.
Doris is an extraordinary character who grabs the reins of her life after a lifetime of sacrifice for others. While her actions are rather unusual, her feelings are recognizable, and anyone can identify with her bid to shake up things. Many a shrinking violet will find inspiration in the film, and her successes will make you cheer.
“Hello, My Name is Doris” is currently available to rent.