Skin-deep, cluttered and a tonal hodgepodge, “Hello, My Name Is Doris” would sink big-time without an immensely likable and emotionally truthful performance propelling it forward. Sally Field vibrantly provides those essentials.
This clunky charmer is a romantic comedy without much romance, a coming-of-age tale with a 60-something protagonist, and a rare female take on the scenario of an older person infatuated with somebody much younger. It is directed by Michael Showalter (“The Baxter”), who cowrote the screenplay with Laura Terruso.
Field plays Doris, a romance-novel-reading cat lady with a fashion-firm cubicle job and a colorful wardrobe that probably predates the birth of most of her coworkers. Doris lives alone on Staten Island in the cluttered house where she cared for her just-buried mother. Her unsupportive brother (Stephen Root) and mean sister-in-law (Wendi McLendon-Covey) are pressuring her to clean and sell the place.
Doris falls for John (Max Greenfield), the company’s young new art director, after he straightens her cat-eye glasses and, basically, acknowledges her existence. Emboldened by a vapid self-help speaker (Peter Gallagher), Doris pursues John, pulling silly stunts to get his attention. Assisted by the teenage granddaughter (Isabella Acres) of best friend Roz (Tyne Daly, underused), she researches him online.
Doris pretends to be a fan of John’s favorite dance-music band. The deception leads to a club outing where Doris, previously deemed frumpy, strikes the Brooklyn hipster crowd as retro-cool.
A fish out of stagnant water, Doris blossoms, and a friendship with John ensues. But her antics, compounded by romcom-style misunderstandings, eventually backfire.
Is Doris truly living a full life or simply behaving foolishly?
The filmmakers don’t precisely answer the question, but it’s less problematic than their failure to make Doris three-dimensional.
With her bows, scarves, romance novels, hoarder tendencies, love of office supplies and romantic fantasies whose appeal quickly fades, she is a concoction of facets and cliches with little core.
This overload of colorful traits, along with Doris’ antics, come at the expense of richer material.
The Doris-John friendship demands deeper development, for starters.
Showalter’s frequent shifting of tones — broad comedy, indie quirkiness, hints of satire, family melodrama — also undermine the story’s impact.
But Showalter’s directing is undeniably uplifting, and Field, the movie’s top asset, delivers a joyful, resonant lead performance.
In addition to having winning fun with Doris’ dysfunctions, Field finds a sad, deserving, life-embracing human being beneath the clutter and brings forth enough of that person to satisfy us where it matters.
She’s a kick when rocking out to electro-pop. She’s a knockout when confronting her brother about the sacrifices she’s made.
A likable actress, Field bravely makes Doris a challenge to like. And against all likelihood, we’re captivated.
Hello, My Name Is Doris
Starring: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Tyne Daly, Stephen Root
Written by: Michael Showalter, Laura Terruso
Directed by: Michael Showalter
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes