It seems as if every year there are a handful of indie films with which I become completely enthralled.
Hello, My Name is Doris is the first such film of 2016, a beautiful little gem of a film about a beautiful little gem of a woman, Doris, played with eccentric authenticity and heartfelt depth by two-time Oscar winner Sally Field, whose turn as this sixtysomething office drone who finds herself nearing the end of her life realizing she's never really lived her life is simultaneously warm and wonderful, emotionally honest and humorously exhilarating.
Doris has spent a good majority of her adult life caring for her mother, whose recent death has now left Doris alone with the exception of longtime friend Roz (Tyne Daly), Roz's granddaughter, Vivian (Isabella Acres) and her brother, Todd (Stephen Root), who puts on a united front with his wife Cynthia (Wendi McLendon-Covey) in trying to Doris to deal with her increasingly out of control hoarding tendencies.
Doris, for her part, isn't particularly concerned about her hoarding tendencies. She spends her days seemingly out of place in an office comprised of hipster millennials who seem to mostly regard her as a sort of ancient curiosity. When she has an up close and personal encounter with John Fremont (Max Greenfield, New Girl), Doris seems to intuitively understand that this may very well be her last real shot at the spark that has always been missing from her life.
There's a problem, of course. John is half her age.
If this sounds like any number of films you've seen before, well, I suppose it actually is.
Trust me, that's okay.
Despite its abundant familiarity, I found myself completely in love with every single frame of Hello, My Name is Doris and completely immersed in Field's warm and winning performance that may very well mark the year's first award-worthy turn.
There are so many ways that Hello, My Name is Doris could have gone wrong. It never does. Field's work here is simply mesmerizing as she embodies Doris as a wonderfully eccentric and humorous woman without ever letting us laugh at her instead of with her. Field finds the humanity underneath all that aching yet genuine humor, a humanity at times brimming with self-doubt and regret and, on at least one occasion, a humanity overflowing with anger and hurt and hints of abandonment. Field's is a performance that is so good you won't realize that it's that good.
While not given anywhere near her range to work with, Max Greenfield proves to be the perfect complement to Field's quirky charm and awkward vulnerability. As the office hottie and genuinely good guy, Greenfield peels away the edge we've often seen him portray in television's New Girl and gives us such a transparency that we spend the entire film mumbling to ourselves "I wonder if?"
Keep on wondering, indeed.
The film benefits greatly from the presence of Tyne Daly as Roz, Daly herself seemingly embracing one of the meatier roles she's had in a while on the big screen and hitting a home run with it. As Roz's 13-year-old granddaughter, Isabella Archer is appropriately warm and sweet and funny and utterly charming. Stephen Root, one of the most dependable yet under-appreciated character actors working today, finds depth despite bringing to life a character that feels like something got left on the cutting room floor, while Wendi McLendon-Covey suffers largely from the same problem of trying to depth in a character that isn't particularly fleshed out.
Jack Antonoff, from the band fun., has a fun brief cameo in one of the film's highlight scenes when Doris shows up in what we'd likely now call vintage wear at a concert by one of John's favorite bands, Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winters. It's a goofy scene that, once again, Field and Greenfield bring beautifully to life.
The film has brief appearances by a few other familiar faces as well including Peter Gallagher as a self-help guru who seems to take a special interest in Doris and the likes of Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black), Kumail Najiani (Silicon Valley), Beth Behrs (2 Broke Girls) and others.
So yeah, there's a formula working inside Hello, My Name is Doris. That can't be denied. You know what? Sometimes, the formula works and when you have a lead actress the caliber of Sally Field there's a pretty good chance it's really going to work.
It works here.
Hello, My Name is Doris isn't a perfect film, but it's a perfectly enchanting film with a warmth and wisdom and spirit that will leave you feeling better as you leave the movie theatre than you likely did walking into it. While it may be a stretch to expect Field's name to mentioned come awards season, that whether she's playing a flying nun, a dissociative survivor or an aging woman seeking one last shot at happiness, Sally Field is an actress you just can't help but really, really like.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic