Wednesday, March 23, 2016

HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS (2016)

Written by Michael Showalter & Laura Terruso


Directed by Michael Showalter


Where & When: Arclight Theaters, Hollywood, CA. March 14, 2016 6:00 PM


"Hello, My Name Is Doris" is an appealing yet unremarkable comedy about an older woman who becomes romantically infatuated with a much younger man. There are quite a few delightful moments to be found but what really makes this film stand out is it's star, Sally Field. While she's made brief appearances in the recent "Spider-Man" flicks and even received another Oscar nod for her supporting work in "Lincoln", it's been far too long since Field has had a leading role in a movie. The actress has always been a first-rate comedian and brings emotional depth to any role she plays. This is a perfect showcase to remind (or introduce for those too young to remember) viewers that she is a cinematic treasure.

Field was first noticed in the 1960's television comedies like "Gidget" and "The Flying Nun" where she revealed her endearing perky charm and not much else. But it was quite clear that if she could seriously make us believe a nun could fly, there was nothing this actress couldn't do. It took time, several years, in fact, as well as studying with acting couch, Lee Strasberg before getting a chance to show she had much more to offer.

That first chance came with the 1976 television movie "Sybil", the true life story of an abused woman who developed a multiple personality disorder. The role won Field an Emmy and long overdue respect. She wanted to get in to feature films yet this was a time when tv folk and movie actors did not integrate. The determined Field did not let that stop her and managed to get cast in the box-office smash "Smokey & The Bandit" and won an Oscar for her role as a union organizer in "Norma Rae" in 1979. She would win a second Best Actress Oscar for "Places in the Heart" five years later.

Field plays Doris Miller, a sixty-something data-entry employee at a Manhattan office. We all have worked with someone like Doris at some point; a quiet, unassuming but odd person that you don't really pay much attention to most of the time. It would seem hard not to notice Doris with the wildly colorful scarves wrapped around her head and wacky second-hand clothing she wears to work.

This all changes when a twenty-something, handsome new employee, John Fremont (Max Greenfield) shows her a little kindness and attention. The lonely Doris becomes obsessed with John but gets tongue-tied when she tries to speak to him. With words of encouragement from a self-help guru (Peter Gallagher) and the help of the teenage granddaughter (Isabella Acres) of her close friend, Roz (Tyne Daly), Doris secretly follows John on Facebook to find out more about him.

However, a surprising thing happens. Doris and John actually become good friends although this is partly due to info she got on him with her Internet snooping. Their relationship seems to be going perfectly for Doris until she discovers he's begun dating a sweet, younger girl (Beth Behrs).

Director and co-writer, Showalter (who you might recognize as an actor and stand-up comedian also co-wrote the cult comedy, "Wet Hot American Summer") manages to keep the tone of the film light, kind and good-humored even as we watch a sadly delusional character behave in ways that are cringe-worthy and a little disturbing. At times, the broad humor can chafe against the darker emotional elements introduced to the film like a scene when Doris is confronted by her concerned brother (Stephen Root), his rigid wife (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and a therapist (Elizabeth Reaser) with a hoarding intervention. The response from a frightened, devastated and angry Doris is very well played yet feels like it belongs in another movie. One thing we know about Ms Field is that she is committed even when the material doesn't fully warrant the attention. Mr. Greenfield shines as the dreamy co-worker and he has such a lovely chemistry with Ms Field that you can't help wishing these two will end up together.

The rest of the supporting cast is impressive which includes "Orange is the New Black" star, Natasha Lyonne, Kumail Nanjiani of HBO's "Silicon Valley", "SNL" player, Kyle Mooney although none of them are given much to do here.

Ageism has been a part of Hollywood for a long time with female actors mainly feeling the brunt of it's effects. This explains why Ms Field along with other highly-esteemed performers of her era like Jessica Lange, Glenn Close, Sissy Spacek and Kathleen Turner have found film work scarce today. There are certainly a few exceptions (with Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren to be the most notable) but many of their male peers (Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro etc.) continued to remain an in-demand screen presence until they decide to call it a day.

Last year, however, we saw several veteran actresses making strong appearances with leading roles in feature films. Some of them were Blythe Danner in "I'll See You In My Dreams", Lily Tomlin in "Grandma", Oscar-nominated Charlotte Rampling in "45 Years" and the eighty-one year old Maggie Smith with "The Lady in the Van". And now we have Sally Field in the modestly charming "Hello, My Name is Doris". Let's hope this surprising yet very welcome trend continues for a long time.