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Sally Field Elevates The Tale Of A Woman Of A Certain Age

Sally Field stars as Doris in <em>Hello, My Name Is Doris,</em> a film about coming of age in old age.
Aaron Epstein
Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
Sally Field stars as Doris in Hello, My Name Is Doris, a film about coming of age in old age.

The eccentric middle-aged cat lady has met the vintage-loving hipsters. Hello, My Name Is Doris stars Sally Field as a woman whose attraction to a much younger man leads her on a journey into young-adult circles, where she is celebrated for her "unique style" — at least until someone has the guts to tell her what ironic appreciation means.

Doris is a deeply sympathetic character, a Staten Island native who has lived in her mother's house for her entire adult life. When her mom dies, she's cast adrift, unable to throw out anything in the cluttered home despite the incessant pleadings of family and friends. We feel Doris' pain simply because Field is one of the most gifted actors working, capable of being flighty and nervy and deeply sad all at the same moment. She's in every scene and carries the film through a weak script that often sells her character's intelligence far short.

At work, where Doris has clung to her bottom-rung accounting job even as 20-somethings have replaced all her colleagues, she falls for the new art director, a young catch played by Max Greenfield. He's required to be quite a bit more subdued here than in his regular gig as New Girl's Schmidt, but still wrangles in a few funny lines. The schoolgirl crush seems destined to end before it begins, but Doris gets sneaky and "catfishes" her target to model herself after his interests. "Find someone who looks like they have a master's degree," she instructs her friend's granddaughter as she constructs her fake Facebook profile. Suddenly Doris is sporting hip neon threads and jamming to electronic dance bands. (The film's indie-band parody, "Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winters," is only one step removed from real-life indie band Margot & the Nuclear So and So's.)

Michael Showalter, who directed, adapted Doris from a short film by New York University student Laura Terruso (Showalter teaches at the school). Showalter is best known for his roles in sketch comedy franchises like The State, Stella and Wet Hot American Summer, where he constantly mocked the tropes of film and TV while honing a tone so arch it was like having his elbow perpetually pressed into your side. He did the same in The Baxter, his 2005 directorial debut. Seeing him attempt something so sincere, so rooted in human behavior instead of screwball goofs, makes for a strange yet welcome bit of cognitive dissonance.

In Doris, Showalter embraces many of the same middlebrow story beats he used to see himself transcending. The protagonist may be a couple of decades older than normal, a fact that is this film's main selling point as an object of representational progress, but there's still a misunderstanding at a party, a mistaken identity and a cluttered house symbolizing an unkempt state of mind. Doris even has a few moments of pathos, including a heartbreaking monologue that allows Field to play some real emotion. But it's not entirely a sapfest, as there are also great comedy ringers in the margins, including Kumail Nanjiani and Natasha Lyonne as co-workers and Tyne Daly as Doris' best friend. Daly's lived-in sass cuts through the smirking young people, as when she snaps at Doris, "You're just the weird old lady in the funny clothes to them."

In its probing of the generation gap that defines hipness, Doris bears similarities to Noah Baumbach's smart 2015 comedy While We're Young, though its societal critiques are not as clever nor its story as compelling. Still, through it all, Field is one weird old lady who refuses to be pinned down.

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