Where would we be without two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Sally Field and another of her indelible, quirky, wholly committed, utterly endearing performances? One glimpse of Field in the opening sequence as Doris Miller crying at her mother’s funeral, wearing cat eye glasses and a big Minnie Mouse bow wrapped around a towering bun of hair– and she had me at “Hello, My Name is Doris.”
We quickly learn that Doris is the spinster sister who stayed home to care for mother, and now her brother and his grasping wife have pounced, within hours of mom being in the ground, nudging her to liquidate the overstuffed family manse. There’s a cat, and bric-a-brac from decades of hoarding and curb surfing. Change is in the offing– and that is the stuff of the film.
Immediately we see the spark in Doris; she’s got something I couldn’t resist and a handsome young man she meets while he’s squashed up against her in the elevator senses it too. Turns out he’s the new art director John Fremont (Max Greenfield) at the firm where Doris has been doing data entry since the year one. She immediately begins fantasizing about him, and these sequences spring up without warning, until she and we are whipsawed back to reality.
Will this be some kind of May/December romance? Greenfield plays this perfectly; he’s warm and winning right on the edge of going farther. Will he? Will they? The film keeps you wondering. It IS a coming of age story, and Doris has definitely aged, but part of her has not caught up. She’s an innocent, emotionally frozen in time, and this seems to have dictated her fashion choices hot off the 50’s. From poodle skirts and yellow plaid coats, to high heels and red lipstick, she looks kooky. In fact, she’s so retro, she’s hip again and the young art crowd deems her a “true original.” Doris to herself, is just herself.
The film echoes Doris’s awkward charm–but has a few loose ends. Her infatuation with her co-worker is fueled by a wild-eyed self-help guru (Peter Gallagher perfect in the part) who urges her to pursue the impossible. These scenes and later ones with a psychiatrist who wants to help her “move” feel superfluous.
There is one truly awkward scene involving the giant exercise ball Doris’s bitchy boss has ordered everyone in the office to sit on in place of a chair. The cooked up “climax” of the scene involves John using a bicycle pump to “pump” up Doris’s ball WHILE she’s sitting on it. The screenwriters had to go a long way to get us to that moment, and unfortunately they got us there.
But most of the film’s fish out of water situations work and are pretty hilarious and/or delightful, from Doris dancing in her saddle shoes alone in her room to her dancing in a neon yellow jump suit at a downtown club where she becomes the mascot of a famous and fatuous electronic band. Along the way she meets a teacher in a gay pre-school and later joins an LGBT knitting circle, her naivete set off against the exoticism of a much younger outre milieu.
Tyne Daley as the quintessential hardbitten/soft-hearted loyal to the end best friend Roz is worried, especially since Doris also seems to have found an adolescent kindred spirit in Roz’s teenage granddaughter (Isabella Acres) with whom she giggles and plots to snag the younger man.
Field holds all of these scenarios together with her emotionally honest approach to Doris as a real and complex person, misunderstood and underestimated. Always we understand how Doris got where she is, and we are excited for her, fear for her, and are deeply sympathetic to the way she sees the world. And for all her vulnerability as she wades into unfamiliar territory, we know she’s no pushover.
At the climax of the film, Doris is poised on an emotional precipice, and my heart was in my mouth. Field in an almost incandescent moment in the aftermath, lets us see all the way down to the well of Doris’s sadness, surrender, and resolve, her face glowing, alone in the dark. “Hello, My Name is Doris” will make you want to put on a name tag and claim yourself. It opens this Friday March 18th.