By Jordan Canahai
Hello, My Name Is Doris, the oddly endearing and unconventional effort from director Michael Showalter (The State, Wet Hot American Summer) stars a wonderful Sally Field as Doris, an older woman living a lonely life in New York City. Grieving the loss of her mother, she has little but her menial office job to concern herself with. After her best friend (Tyne Daly) takes her to a lecture by a self-help guru (Peter Gallagher), Doris is motivated to pursue a relationship with her workplace crush, the much younger John (Max Greenfield), who recently moved to the city from L.A. After some cute and comedic planning on Doris’ part, and more than a little awkwardness, her and John eventually become friends,as she wins the young man over with her one-of-a-kind personality and infectious energy, becoming something of a popular figure among his hip DIY crowd in the process. As their friendship grows, Doris’ crush evolves into a more serious romantic longing, even after she discovers John is dating a lissome blonde (Beth Behrs).
Aided by a solid supporting cast—including Wendi McLendon-Covey as Doris’ bitchy sister-in-law and Natasha Lyonne and Kumail Nanjiani as her twenty-something co-workers, Field shines throughout as Doris, the skillfully maneuvering through both the comedic and dramatic tonal shifts the screenplay takes. She’s so good in an intense scene with her brother late in the film, in fact, the resulting drama almost threatens to derail the light-hearted proceedings which follow. An actress who has always been admired for her beauty as well as her talent, it’s nice to see Field in a role that acknowledges that older women still have the same needs in their 60s as those in their 20s. In lesser hands, the character of Doris would have been little more than the familiar spinster archetype, but Field transforms her into a fully dimensional person, and she meshes well with the charming Greenfield so that their relationship comes off believable rather than creepy or forced. Field’s deft handling of the subject matter is what elevates Hello, My Name is Doris above standard genre fare, even as some of the moments of humor prove less effective than others (the many jokes poking fun at the generational gaps between hipster-millennials in Brooklyn, for example, in contrast to Doris’ gosh-darn old-fashionedness, tend to vary between clever and cloying)
Still, Hello, My Name is Doris largely succeeds as both an intelligent comedy and human portrait. Showalter leaves the actions and motivations of his characters (particularly Greenfield) open-ended, playing with viewer expectations, even as it becomes clear the film is headed towards a conventional conclusion. Perhaps Hello, My Name Is Doris could have been a bolder film if it had a stronger sense of its audience, as the movie seems determined to appeal to both older viewers from Doris’ generation as well as the more modern sensibilities of John’s peers. However, it’s ultimately this schizophrenia that fittingly gives the good-natured R-rated 90-minute dramady its unusual charm. Hello, My Name is Doris is currently playing at the North Park Theater.