'Hello, My Name Is Doris': SXSW Review

A confused, half-likeable attempt to empathize with retirement-age loneliness.

Sally Field plays a spinster smitten with new co-worker Max Greenfield.

In a more perfect world, a movie built around Sally Field would not be an oddity; the actress would be busy enough that we'd judge each of her starring vehicles on its own merits. But this is not a perfect world, and Hello, My Name Is Doris is certainly an oddity — not only in putting Field front-and-center, but in how it handles her character, a sixty-something hoarder who falls so hard for a young co-worker (Max Greenfield), she deludes herself into thinking she might win his love. Michael Showalter's first outing as a feature director since 2005's ill-fated The Baxter can't decide exactly what to do with Doris: It's not nearly funny enough to call a comedy, but its seriousness about the eponymous character's lonely life is undercut by its depiction of her frankly ridiculous behavior. Likely to underwhelm younger viewers and leave older ones feeling mildly insulted, the oddly pitched picture has limited commercial appeal despite some appealing elements.

 

Field's Doris has always lived at home with her mother on Staten Island, commuting to a clerical job in Manhattan. When Mom dies, Doris' brother (Stephen Root) starts nudging her about cleaning out all the junk the two women have amassed over the years, ideally with an eye to selling the house. She starts seeing a hoarder-specializing therapist (Elizabeth Reaser) at his urging, but is a long way from signing on to his objectives.

Meanwhile, a thunderbolt hits Doris at work: John (Greenfield), the new art director, arouses her so much she starts going into slack-jawed reveries in the middle of the office, ignoring everything around her while fantasizing that he'll take her into his arms. Not understanding the nature of her awkwardness, John finds her endearingly quirky, especially after she has cyber-stalked him and affected an interest in his favorite band.

Doris is an accidental hit with John's hipster friends, her genuine uncoolness misinterpreted as ironic kitsch. Soon she's being invited to pose for photo shoots and join rooftop knitting circles, and viewers who've been complaining to themselves that Doris is a caricature can see that the script's conception of Williamsburg youth is equally shallow. Doris starts neglecting her best friend (Tyne Daly, a bright spot and the film's most consistently credible ingredient) to hang out with the kids, all the while waiting for the moment when John will declare his love.

We all know this will not end well. Having concocted a dubious, doomed scenario, the script's obligation is to get Doris out of this mess with minimal ugliness. Showalter walks a fine line, trying to display empathy for a character he has drawn in such unbelievable terms. Field does her best in this confused setting: If we wince on her behalf at some points, she maintains enough dignity that when the film offers her an opening — when her family stages a hoarder intervention, say, or during her sole discussion of the man who got away — she can briefly make us see Doris as a real human being instead of a younger man's projection of what an aging, lonely woman might be like.

 

Production company: Red Crown Productions

Cast: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Beth Behrs, Wendi Mclendon-Covey, Stephen Root, Elizabeth Reaser, Jack Antonoff, Natasha Lyonne, Tyne Daly

Director-Screenwriter: Michael Showalter

Producers: Laura Terruso, Jordana Mollick, Kevin Mann, Michael Showalter, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Riva Marker, Daniel Crown

Executive producer: Mauricio Betancur

Director of photography: Brian Burgoyne

Production designer: Melanie Jones

Costume designer: Rebecca Gregg

Editor: Robert Nassau

Music: Brian H. Kim

Casting directors: Sunny Boling, Meg Morman

Sales: Hailey Wierengo, UTA

 

No rating, 89 minutes

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