Monday, March 21, 2016

Hello, My Name is Doris (***)

Directed by Michael Showalter


What a wonderfully sweet snack of a movie Hello, My Name is Doris turned out to be. Michael Showalter, of Wet Hot American Summer fame, gets behind the camera and directs only his second feature film, but gone is the absurdity of Summer and his cult television shows The State and Stella, and in its place is a wonderfully sincere and poignant tale of a spunky but troubled sexagenarian realizing that she can take control of her life for the first time. Her name is Doris Miller and she's played with pitch-perfect comedic timing by Sally Field. Doris is a long-time accountant at a quickly-modernizing New York City corporation; a union dinosaur quickly becoming surrounded by younger and younger co-workers. Doris' whole life was taking care of her unwell mother, but when her mother passes, she's left with a house cluttered with hoarded belongings and decades-old food. Her brother, Todd (Stephen Root), and his maddening wife (Wendi McLendon-Covey) want her to address her hoarding problem, clean up the home, and get it ready for sale so that way Todd can get his half of the inheritance. Doris cannot seem to keep her mind on her brother's request, though, because she has become fixated on her company's new hire, a California-transport named John Fremont (Max Greenfield) whose boyish handsomeness and all-around niceties makes him the immediate focus of Doris' complete infatuation. Doris' best friend, Roz (Tyne Daly), finds Doris' obsession with the decades-younger John unbecoming, but with the help of Roz's thirteen-year-old granddaughter, Vivian (Isabella Acres), Doris creates a fake Facebook account and friends John, allowing herself to keep tabs on all of John's likes, dislikes, passions and hatreds. She uses the fake account to reinvent herself as sixty-something year-old millennial, and finagling herself into becoming one of John's better friends in the office. But will she be able to win his heart?

As Doris, Field is so eagerly delusional and lecherous, but it's hard not to fall in love with her. We've seen this kind of film before, but so rarely with an older woman, and even more rarely told with such an empathy toward its predator protagonist. The unfortunate truth of Hello, My Name is Doris is that the film is a countdown to Doris' humiliation in the face of trying to win John's love, but Showalter (who co-wrote the script with Laura Terruso) understands this and uses it to create real tension in the film's first two acts. In the face of both grief, as well as a lifetime of hermetic self-inclusion, Doris' emotional state is not what one would call stable. Todd has even hired a therapist (played by Elizabeth Reaser, in a short but effective performance) to help Doris with both her mourning and her hoarding. And yet, watching Doris finally find her place amongst all of these neon-wearing, EDM-listening twenty-somethings is infectious. A lot of this comes from Field who never stops turning on the charm. The sixty-nine year-old actress finds a real stride here. This role is so much more fitting than her nominated, ham-handed work in Lincoln three years ago. She has such a gift for comedy and is able to effortlessly win audiences over, it suddenly becomes a shame that she's not getting a chance to get more roles similar to Doris which shows the wide, winning range that she's capable of. In particular, Field's scenes with Daly create the film's best laughs. Their depiction of advanced-aged friendship is so earnest and honest, and Daly's Roz (who is going through her own version of grief) is such a terrific, subtly-layered character, as well as an accurate portrayal of a Staten Island crank that doesn't boil over into parody. Doris is sprinkled with those short, comedic performances (in this case: Natasha Lyonne, Kumail Nanjiani, Rebecca Wisocky, Rich Sommer) that these films are obligated to have, but the work is strong. It's the film's central cast (Field, Greenfield, Daly), though, that really makes Doris such a delight. Showalter shows here that he can be more than the slapdash insanity of his previous work; he's capable of something with real feeling. And even if that weren't true, Field's performance alone makes the film worth watching.

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