Michael Showalter goes outside comfort zone with film dramedy

For comedy fans, the release of “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” the long-awaited follow-up to the 2001 cult classic “Wet Hot American Summer,” was a watershed moment of 2015.

The premise of the eight-part Netflix series was ridiculous. It was a prequel to the film, even though most of the actors reprised their roles. A bunch of 40-year-olds inhabited the parts of teens, with seemingly no one noticing they had receding hairlines and way too much body hair to be adolescents.

This comic absurdity is the calling card of Michael Showalter, co-creator of “Wet Hot” and a founding member of beloved sketch comedy groups The State and Stella.

But Showalter is distancing himself from his trademark comedy in his latest endeavor as co-writer and director of “Hello, My Name is Doris,” a movie starring Sally Field that includes none of his cohorts from Stella and The State.

“It was important to me for this film not to be lumped in with my other stuff,” says Showalter, who screens the film, with Field in attendance, at a SF Sketchfest event on Friday in The City.

Field plays a bottled-up woman who, after falling in love with a younger co-worker, ventures outside her comfort zone in a move to draw closer to her new romantic interest.

Showalter had been itching to direct a film that featured less of his comedic hallmarks. He says, “This is still a comedy, but there is also some real drama in this movie. One scene will be very funny and one scene will be very sad. I’ve wanted to push myself in this territory for a while. It was very unfamiliar, but at the same time, really exciting and challenging.”

He was drawn to the rich, multi-layered makeup of Doris, a character first developed by Laura Terruso, who was a graduate student in film at New York University, where Showalter teaches screenwriting.

Despite the seemingly many differences between Doris and himself, Showalter saw a kindred spirit in the part.

“Even though she’s a character in her 60s and had a very different life and very different upbringing, there are a lot of ways in which I identify with Doris,” says Showalter, 45. “This is a movie about shedding your skin and breaking out of your safe place and into something better. I think that’s something we can all relate to.”

IF YOU GO
Michael Showalter and Sally Field
screening “Hello, My Name Is Doris”
Where: Alamo Drafthouse, 2550 Mission St., S.F. .
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 22
Tickets: $35
Contact: (415) 549-5959, drafthouse.com/sf www.sfsketchfest.com

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