Thursday 5 May 2016

Movie Review: Hello, My Name Is Doris (2015)

A comedy about an unlikely winter-spring relationship, Hello, My Name Is Doris features Sally Field in fine form and offers astute commentary about societal rules and expectations.

In New York City, the elderly Doris Miller (Field) is single, lonely, and dealing with the recent death of her mother. A leftover from a bygone era, Doris works unnoticed in the accounting department of a hip fashion design firm. Her friend Roz (Tyne Daly) and her brother Todd (Stephen Root) try to help her move on after mom's death, but what really perks Doris up is the sudden appearance of the hunky and much younger John Fremont (Max Greenfield), a new addition at the office.

Doris develops an uncontrollable crush on John and imagines a steamy romance. With the help of Roz's niece, 13 year old Vivian (Isabella Acres), she creates a fake Facebook account, befriends John and starts trying to get his attention, and eventually succeeds in meeting him socially at a music concert. Doris falls in with a hip young crowd, her eccentric wardrobe and old fashioned honesty making her popular within John's circle, but a potential case of mismatched expectations awaits.

Directed by Michael Showalter, produced on a shoestring budget, and filmed in less than a month, Hello, My Name Is Doris is a pleasant surprise within the confines of its ambition. Without ever scaling any profound heights of comedy or drama, what could have easily been a cheesy made-for-television level production is instead classy and effective. The script by Showalter and Laura Terruso deals sensitively but also pragmatically with issues of ageism, sexuality at an older age, the trauma of loss, and life's regrets.

The film delves into territory rarely explored on the screen. Older people can fall in lust, develop crushes, and enjoy the freedom of allowing the imagination run riot with sexual fantasies. When vulnerable they can also scheme, be underhanded and go to extremes just in pursuit of a potential mate. The movie does not shy away from the awkwardness of a much older woman chasing after a younger man, and despite plenty of humour treats the subject seriously. Doris is a grieving woman looking for an escape, and after a century of older men chasing younger women on the screen, she is ready to turn the tables with her distinctive charms.

The film also asks questions about the line between acceptance and exploitation. Doris is readily and non-judgmentally accepted as a member of a youthful group of friends. But is she genuinely welcome or just a curiosity and a mascot? And does she really want to run in such a group or is she using them to prove her hip credentials to John?

Sally Field is up for the challenge and brings plenty of courage to the role. Field does not shy away from some of the more ridiculous situations, and embraces Doris' kooky wardrobe. The supporting cast is rather bland, with young Isabella Acres emerging with the most promise as Vivian introduces Doris to the tricks of social media. Peter Gallagher gets a couple of scenes as an inspirational life coach and author who motivates Doris to pursue her passion.

Doris is getting on in age, but she is young at heart, ready to love, and flashes a warm smile.

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