Monday, April 18, 2016

Hello, World

Rarely does a film come along that is as thoughtful, charming and affecting as Hello, My Name is Doris. Directed by Michael Showalter and written by Showalter and Laura Terruso, Doris stars Sally Field as the titular character, a woman whose unexpected infatuation with a younger colleague (Max Greenfield) breaks her free from the life she had come to accept as the only life she deserved. Doris could have easily veered into parody – the eccentric older woman falls for a man half her age – but thanks to the authenticity in the writing and performances, Doris is as heartbreaking as it is uplifting.

We meet Doris at her mother’s funeral – a mother for whom Doris sacrificed her life to care for – as her brother and sister-in-law (Stephen Root and Wendi McLendon-Covey, always welcome but underutilized here) attempt to convince her to part not only with the numerous relics left behind in the home shared with her mother but also with the home itself. While the hoarding storyline is a bit clunky it does drive home the basis for Doris’ peculiarities: she is utterly and completely stuck in time. While Doris’ age may qualify her as a mature adult, when Doris put her life on hold to care for her mother her maturation halted.

So it comes as a surprise to Doris herself when she meets and falls hard for her colleague John, a recently hired art director, who happens to be a few decades her junior. Even more surprisingly, and against her better judgment, she sets out to win him over. She gets some assistance in Facebook stalking from her best friend’s (Tyne Daly) granddaughter (Isabella Acres) and suddenly Doris finds herself thrust into John’s world – never more perfectly illustrated than when Doris, outfitted in choice neon attire, attends a concert by the fictional but fantastic band Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winters. Doris and John’s journey, if at times a bit predictable, is kept afloat with relatable events in the storyline and the smart, genuine dialogue that is expertly delivered by the leads.

Field is magnetic in the title role. Doris is a mix of complex despair and fervent optimism. Field’s portrayal of Doris’ array of emotions and steadily increasing bravery is brilliant. She brings intricate emotion into each scene, sometimes with as little as a look in her eye or a subtle change in her facial expression. And Greenfield, playing a less neurotic, sweeter version of his New Girl character, is harmless and compassionate without being dopey (I’m looking at you Keanu Reeves in Something’s Gotta Give).

Much has been made about Field and Greenfield playing opposite as a prospective couple whose age difference is wider than that normally depicted in the media. After all, age is just a number until someone dares to reflect such age on screen.  But it’s important to understand that while the film centers on Doris’ lust for John that’s not at all what the film is about. Doris’ gambit to win over John is merely the lens through which Doris begins to see a larger world outside of her childhood home. Hello, My Name is Doris is a deceptively captivating glimpse at a woman coming of age at a time when age more often restricts than sets free. Watch out world, here comes Doris.

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