Hello, My Name is Doris

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After seeing commercials and interviews that showed clips of Sally Field making out with her much younger co-star (Max Greenfield of New Girl), I thought it would be like Harold & Maude. That was a film I could never buy, since a 17-year-old boy wouldn’t be sexually interested in a 75-year-old Ruth Gordon. It turns out, all the scenes they were showing us were early on in the film, when Doris (Sally Field) is merely fantasizing about her new co-worker. The problem with that is, when they come back to reality, Doris is standing there with weird posture, eyes shut, and mouth wide open. A co-worker has to continually ask, “Doris? Doris? Are you okay?” It was a bit too Walter Mitty, and after coming off the disappointment of Eddie the Eagle’s character also being a bit dim-witted, that was a disappointment. Yet at times, Doris is rather sharp. The tonal shifts of how we’re laughing at her one minute and with her another…never really work.

I was a bit worried when an early scene showed Doris at the funeral of her mother. She’s been living (and hoarding) with her for years and her brother (Stephen Root) rudely encourages her to move out of the house and get rid of the junk. Nobody has any doubt a sibling would say that, but it takes a special type of jerk to do that at the funeral. And his wife (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is unusually cruel every time they meet up. Luckily, most of the supporting characters aren’t those usual caricatures. For example, Willy Williams (Peter Gallagher) plays one of those self-help motivational gurus, and he’s not as dopey as they usually make these characters on film.

Roz (Tyne Daly) plays the best friend, and she steals the movie. She isn’t afraid to give tough love. It was refreshing to not have her throw fits over little things, but instead come across like a real person; her granddaughter (Isabella Acres), too. Instead of the granddaughter poking fun at Doris, she helps her set up a Facebook account to see (i.e. stalk) her new love interest. They don’t go over-the-top with her being the hip kid that knows more than all the adults in the room.

Greenfield is also well-written. Nothing he does is ever misinterpreted by the audience. We don’t think for a second he’s flirting with Doris. He’s merely being the charming boss he is, who seems to care about all the co-workers. Since Doris is in a low-level job with the hip clothing company, used to condasention from co-workers, it’s easy to see why she’d misinterpret their interactions.

There’s a scene where he helps her inflate the exercise ball she’s sitting on at her cubicle. That’s funny. Unfortunately, it’s one of the rare times when a close-up of her facial expression elicits laughter. More often than not, they’re just embarrassing. We watch as she peeks over the cubicle to watch him pour coffee or talk to a colleague. It starts to get pathetic. That’s a shame, because Robert De Niro was able to pull off an older character in a clothing company with younger people in The Intern.

I grew up in a time where I watched De Niro and Field win Oscars in the ‘70s (she won two). She was the cutie with Burt Reynolds in the Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit. I remember in the ‘90s seeing Field start to play moms (Forrest Gump, Mrs. Doubtfire). It’s nice to see her get her first starring role in over five years, now as a senior citizen. It’s a shame this wasn’t better. It reminded me how much I hated Punchline (Tom Hanks), where she plays a comedian that has no business getting on a stage to do comedy. In that she also stood around with dumb looks on her face. In this, she has no business thinking she has a shot with her much younger boss. It’s also hard to believe many of the scenarios. I won’t ruin one, but a relationship with a couple ends, when a simple explanation from one of the people would’ve kept it from going south. Yet that wouldn’t let the plot go to the place it needed to.

I know somebody that has a child with a disability, and they mentioned once not liking how people with disabilities are portrayed on screen. He feels the films show the situations completely wrong, and having a child like that is a lot of work, and not always fun and games. Movies rarely show that side. Well, I thought about that when they kept going back to the fact that Doris was a hoarder. If she was an actual hoarder, wouldn’t she have boxes piled to the ceiling? Oh wait, that would make it difficult for the director to film her house. Wouldn’t she have a messy and dirty house or 30 cats? No. Instead, they went with movie/cute hoarding. That way we don’t feel so bad for her, but laugh when a psychiatrist comes over to help her clean stuff out, she doesn’t want to get rid of a single ski or she quickly grabs a cowboy hat out of a box being taken outside.

Director Michael Showalter (who co-wrote with Laura Terruso, who penned the short film this is based on), certainly didn’t do as good a job as Damien Chazelle did turning his short film into Whiplash. Trying to blend the pathos with humor just didn’t work. That doesn’t mean the entire film didn’t work. We feel sad hearing Doris talk about a fiance that got away. We smile when Doris buys a CD from Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winters, and at first is surprised by the electronica blasting out, before dancing gleefully around her room.

There are a few arguments with Daly that are understated, and perfectly done.

The tonal changes just aren’t pulled off.

It was entertaining enough, but frustrating. This could’ve been a tour de force for an older actress — the way Grandma was for Lily Tomlin.

It gets 2 stars out of 5.

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