Hello, My Name is Doris (2015) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 95 min.

Cast: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Tyne Daly, Beth Behrs, Stephen Root, Wendy McClendon-Covey, Elizabeth Reaser, Isabella Acres, Natasha Lyonne, Peter Gallagher, Rebecca Wisocky
Small role: Kyle Mooney, Kumail Nanjiani
Director: Michael Showalter
Screenplay: Laura Terruso, Michael Showalter (based on the book, "Doris & the Intern", by Laura Terruso)
Review published March 29, 2016

Sally Field (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Lincoln) reminds us why she's earned two Oscars (other than because we really, really like her) with her sublime performance in Hello My Name is Doris, a comedy with surprising emotional resonance underneath that elevates it above its sitcom leanings to become one of the better films of 2016.  Field plays the titular role of sixty-something-year-old Staten Island shut-in Doris, an aging holdover in her Manhattan-based company who ends up developing a crush on a friendly, hunky, and much younger new employee named John Fremont (Greenfield, Veronica Mars). 

Most of her interactions with John are in her own mind, but after she ends up partaking in a course with a motivational speaker, she decides to turn what she thinks is 'impossible' into "I'm possible!" and begins to try to make things happen by putting herself in the same social circles as John and his hipster friends.  John takes a liking to Doris, but is he just being friendly, or is he signaling that there could be something more between them?

Directed and co-written by Michael Showalter (The Baxter), who is fleshing out a short film called, "Doris & the Intern", made by his co-screenwriter, Laura Terruso, a former student at the film school Showalter taught at, Hello My Name is Doris tells the tale of a mousy woman who has trouble finding her own path in life when she all but completely sacrificed her own to care for the needs of her reclusive elderly mother. 

Doris has a hard time letting go, called a hoarder by her brother (Root, Trumbo) and his wife (McClendon-Covey, Think Like a Man Too), so now that she's free from the burden of being a caretaker in most of her spare time, she has filled that time continuing to act like mother is still there, by virtually becoming her.  All of her sacrifice came at the expense of a social life and a man to call her own, and her inexperience and naivety is what propels her on this quixotic quest to steal the heart of a man who is obviously beyond her grasp. 

It's for this surprising insight that what could have been just a silly, light and contrived comedy premise becomes something worth thinking further about, as beneath the surface pleasures of the laughs, sometimes at Doris's expense, comes insights into the manifestation of loneliness, aging, and stunted emotional development.  Some of the story elements are quite farfetched to believe from a plotting standpoint but the reactions to those contrivances are not, seeming like genuine, emotionally complex people are being placed within a film construct where other filmmakers would have been content to just go with broad caricatures within the forced situational pieces.

Although the film is a comedy, there's also a sense of the tragic to Doris's character, which makes her endearing enough to root for, even when she has made some very poor decisions on how to handle her newfound crush, with most of her romance experience coming from the pages of the trashy romance novels she ravenously consumes. John also seems sweet-hearted in his way, though he's fairly clueless in picking up the signals that there may be a reason he keeps running into Doris wherever he goes. The casting is quite solid all around, but really, this is Sally Field's movie, and she jumps head first into the role and makes it one to savor.  Field doesn't need to remind us that we like her in Oscar speeches; she reminds us just about any time she appears on the screen. More starring roles, please.

By the end of the film, you realize that the quest for Doris lies not in whether she will land a romance with the new hunk in the office so much as she finds herself in the process, even at a later stage in life than is warranted.  New interests, new friends, and a new zest for life are truly priceless things if one can find them, at any age, making Doris a winner, regardless of whether John Fremont ends up in any of her embraces not completely imagined in her smoldering daydreams.

Qwipster's rating:

2016 Vince Leo