Review: Hello, My Name Is Doris
Doris is pure joy. She is quirky and imperfect, but never fails to be a delight. The movies flaws, which are several, are overcome by a near flawless performance by Sally Field as the title character of this offbeat rom-com. My guess would be that this is intended to satisfy older ladies, but there is no reason many different audiences can't enjoy as well.
Doris Miller (played beautifully by Sally Field) meets John Fremont (played by Max Greenfield from Fox sitcom New Girl), her company's new, young art director and is immediately smitten. She starts researching her new object of desire with the help of Facebook and the 13-year old granddaughter of her best friend. Once she knows more of John's interests, Doris start showing up at his hangouts and winning over his friend-circle. People in her own life are critical as they feel she is setting herself up for disappointment. The heart of this movie is watching Doris pursue what she actually wants for the first time in her life.
The film drips with condescension for its younger characters. In an effort to differentiate them from the world Doris is used to, they all become stereotypes. None of them feel like full characters that have had lives before the events of this movie. All of their dialogue serves only to perpetuate whatever archetype the filmmakers have slotted them for, which is too bad. They are all meant to show young people as relatively simple, monolithic and self-absorbed. It would be interested to see how younger filmmakers would have handled these characters.
The movie’s other major flaw is structural. For a movie that is just over 90 minutes, it suffers from over-complication. I walked away feeling like perhaps it could have either taken ten more minutes or contained one less theme. As is, some of the storylines feel like they get short shrift and thus feel like awkward additions to the conclusion. It isn’t a total mess, but the content is certainly not the film’s main strength.
The real star here is Sally Field’s performance. You cannot help but feel everything in Doris’s head throughout and that is because of Field. She manages to humanize a character that could have easily become a caricature. Reminiscent of Ugly Betty, I am not sure Doris exists in real life. Instead, she is likely a composite of several different people. And while the material makes her feel unrealistic, Field’s portrayal makes her feel very real. Her emotions, her desires, her motivations, all feel imaginable even if they manifest themselves in someone unimaginable.
Every back and forth with her younger counterparts somehow feels authentic onscreen, while I imagine they would not if you were just to read the words on a page. Sally Field is magic. She undoubtedly elevates this pedestrian material and saves the film from being an also-ran romantic comedy. The audience certainly feels what is important to her and it gives the movie an emotional heft I had not anticipated. That makes it much easier to not look too closely at the narrative missteps the movie makes throughout.
Is this movie for you? It may or may not be. Its marketing certainly belies a deeper story that should appeal to more than its target demographic. However, given some of the story’s shortcomings, it is hard to call this ‘must see.’ Field’s performance may be the best anyone has turned in thus far this year and I am hopeful it is remembered as the year goes on. That alone may be reason to give it a chance. She really is that good.
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