At the moment I’m being really bad at checking out small indie films because I’m so busy. I used to stay pretty up-to-date with film news but I’m lacking a bit of motivation as far as that’s concerned these days. So the only movies I really know anything about these days are the big ones. By which I mean comic book films. It’s starting to feel as though I only watch films in or related to the MCU. Something that I don’t have a major problem with but the only time I really get my fix of, for lack of a better term, “proper” films is over awards season. Turns out my viewing habits are, like my reading habits, pretty lazy. So I’ve started trawling the internet for inspiration when it comes to my Tuesday reviews. Trying to find films that I would otherwise have missed completely. Sometimes this is a hugely unsuccessful venture and it’s a huge disappointment and I regret wasting my time. Then there are the rare gems that end up being much better than I thought. Today’s review is, thankfully, of a more positive bent. After all, any time I get to watch Sally Field at work is going to be worthwhile.
I really liked Hello, My Name is Doris but it wasn’t because it was a well-written, funny film. The reason this film works so successfully comes down to Sally Field who, even when she’s given nothing to work with, gives it her all. The character of Doris is nothing more than a collection of quirks than a fully fleshed character. She wears strange clothes, collects junk, and laps up cheesy romance novels. It is only in the hands of Field that she becomes someone an audience can care about. We cheer for her wins, commiserate her losses and cringe at her mistakes. It is only thanks to Field that we pay attention to Doris at all.
Something that she needs the rest of the people in her life to do. Doris Miller lives a very unassuming life on Staten Island with her elderly mother. Every day she catches the ferry to the job she’s had for more years than anyone can remember. Her colleagues don’t give her any heed and see her as nothing but a relic from the company’s past. Her life is full of collecting junk, feeding her cat and reading romance novels. She’s not exactly happy but she has her routine. Until, one day, her mother dies and her whole life begins to spiral.
With her brother and his wife (Stephen Root and Wendi McLendon-Covey) beg her to move out and sell her mother’s house, Doris refuses and chooses to stay in the piles of old magazine and shampoo bottles. This is the life she knows and there is nothing that can tear her away from it. Except for John Fremont (Max Greenfield), the new boy at her office who makes a throwaway comment about Doris’ glasses and sparks something in the old gal.
With the encouragement of her friend Roz (Tyne Daly) and the help of Roz’s 13 year old granddaughter, Doris finds out John’s interest and manufactures a chance meeting at an EDM gig.The pair then form a strange but engaging friendship where Doris breaks out of her comfort zone and John confides his secret fears. All looks good for Doris before she discovers John has a girlfriend (Beth Behrs). How can the 69 year old keep up with her delusion when faced with such a lovely and sweet rival?
The problem with Hello, My Name is Doris is that the film doesn’t know which way it wants to go. It tries to embrace the sweet friendship between the pair whilst also showcasing the dicey depths of Doris’ stalking and still allowing for a slight chance that the two may find romance. Rather than picking a side it tries to have its cake and eat it. It’s a bit of a mess. Laura Terruso, who co-wrote the script with director Michael Showalter, tries to include bits of every genre and gets herself all in a muddle.
There is so much that the film either didn’t need or didn’t embrace enough. The script isn’t exactly mind-blowing and the comedy mainly builds from a stretched out joke about hipsters. For much of the time you can’t really tell if the writers are making fun of Doris or suggesting that she is the only sane one in a sea of modernity. Then you have the unnecessary fantasy scenes where Doris acts out her romance with John. It’s an unnecessary gimmick that adds nothing to the real plot and feels so fake you won’t even mistake them for reality.
Hello, My Name is Doris could have been another well-meaning but forgettable indie flick with a cast of bright young actors had it not been for one vital ingredient. All this film really needs is Sally Field letting go on screen. She has the ability to really speak to an audience and create characters from very little. She knows comedy but also carries the vulnerable scenes expertly. The scenes where the film flies are the private ones where Doris indulges herself and her new life. The scene where she cheekily gets John to inflate the ball that her boss has replaced her chair with. The moment she first hears his favourite band and dances round her room with a youthful exuberance that belies her age. The gig she attends with John where she fools a room of young hipsters into thinking she’s one of them. These are the moments that make the film soar.