Hello, My Name Is Doris: We Are Young, by David Bax
In Michael Showalter’s Hello, My Name Is Doris, Sally Field plays the title character, an eccentric mourning her mother’s recent death, who continues her matriarch’s tradition of hoarding everything from shampoo bottles to skis in her Staten Island home when she’s not taking the ferry into Manhattan for her data entry job at a hip clothing company. Outside of the company of the few friends who understand her, she is scared of her shadow. Still, with her goofy sense of humor and poofy wiglet secured to her head with bright, flowing ribbons, Doris is, as one character describes her, a “true original.” Outside of Field’s performance, though, the same cannot be said of the film as a whole.
Shortly after the death of her mother, a new art director is hired at Doris’ workplace. John (Max Greenfield) immediately catches Doris’ attention and begins to populate her daydreams. The timing here is no coincidence. Doris’ mother was her whole life and, absent that level of preoccupation, she suddenly looks around and begins to take in a world that heretofore existed only in her periphery. John is just the beginning. As she begins to make new, younger friends (like 2 Broke Girls’ Beth Behrs and the hilarious Kyle Mooney), her best friend (Tyne Daly), brother (Stephen Root) and even her therapist (Elizabeth Reaser) become increasingly concerned about her.
The major failing on the part of Showalter and co-screenwriter Laura Terruso (on whose short film “Doris & the Intern” the movie is based) is an unfortunate insistence on hewing to the contrived through line of Doris’ ill-advised romantic pursuit of John. As a way into her self-rediscovery, it works, but it charges further past its expiration date with each telegraphed embarrassment. Every time she does something like post a disastrous comment on Facebook or naively express feelings that any child could see are not requited, it becomes more and more punishing. Showalter wants us to sympathize with Doris yet he keeps making her the butt of the joke.
Hello fares much better in scenes between Doris and those with whom she has a history. Field and Daly have the easy confidence of longtime pros. Doris and Daly’s Roz are comfortably honest with one another in the way of longtime friends while also being fiercely protective of each other’s feelings. Meanwhile, simple interactions among Field, Root’s Todd and Todd’s younger wife (played by the terrific Wendi McLendon-Covey) suggest decades of uneasy relations and unspoken resentments. These are the scenes in which we get to know Doris and they fuel our hopes for her in the newer, younger outside world.
Doris’ ambitions and self-confidence grow so quickly that they seem to surprise even her. Hello owes almost all of its effectiveness to Field’s performance, which is fuller than the simple, jokey character traits with which the film provides her. A scene in which she evenly and without histrionics describes the time she was briefly engaged while in her twenties is heartbreaking. That Doris knows this may be the defining incident in her life but is also too resigned to get upset about it is the key to the character and Field navigates that narrow passage expertly.
It’s Showalter, however, who can’t seem to locate the same empathy Field does. He’s more in his element satirizing the millennial Brooklyn lifestyle (everyone makes artisanal something or other in their apartment; Behrs’ character belongs to an LGBT rooftop knitting circle). His funny but snide mode doesn’t shake off so easy when he turns his attention to Doris’ emotional and psychological journey. The resulting impression is that he’s making fun of her too, even while he purports to want us to value her originality.