By Eleanor Ringel Cater
What is one to make of the movie, “Hello, My Name is Doris”?
Make tracks in the opposite direction is the short answer.
There’s something badly off-kilter when a two-time Oscar winner turns up in a film so confused and worse, so condescending – not only to Sally Field but to all women in her age range – that you can’t quite figure out how it got made, let alone why.
Okay, perhaps “why” is easier. Because, I suppose, Sally Field loves to work. Along with those Oscars, she’s got a couple of Emmys for her extensive TV work, a lengthy filmography and a slew of nominations for everything from the Golden Globes to the BAFTAS (the Brit equivalent of the Oscars).
Plus, despite the lip service now being paid, there just aren’t many roles for women over 50. Unless – all together now – you’re Meryl Streep (or Helen Mirren).
That’s one reason Field ended up playing Tom Hanks’ mom in “Forrest Gump,” even though she’s all of ten years older than him.
Yes, Field likes to work.
And she’s much too good for this addled and insulting comedy… something (??) about a sheltered woman who picks an inappropriate love object. No, not a blow-up doll (those jokes are for men only), but just about as much of a fantasy figure.
A younger man. A much younger man.
When the movie begins, Doris has just lost her true life’s work – not her job at some generic beehive of cubicles in Manhattan, but taking care of her elderly mother. Her brother would like her to move on (read, sell the house on Staten Island, so they can get a few bucks out of the place before it falls apart). Doris isn’t so sure. After all, what’s she to do with that single ski she’s saved over the years or all those tiny bottles of shampoo?
Change – or the apparition of it – enters her life in the form of John (Max Greenfield), her new co-worker. He’s nice to her in that off-handed way lots of guys are nice to people. He has no idea of her feelings – or her lovelorn fantasies, which the movie likes to, um, share with us.
John is so clueless that, after running into Doris at a concert (in true stalker style, she’s Facebook’d his favorite band and where they’re appearing), he invites her to hang out with him and his friends. But what they see as an “adorable dotty old lady,” she perceives as her new chance at life. More specifically, a life with John.
“Doris” might’ve been a courageous comment on aging and loneliness. It could’ve even kept in some of the funny bits. Like when her best friend (Tyne Daly) notes that Doris has packets of Chinese take-out duck sauce older than John.
Unfortunately, filmmaker Michael Showalter is as clueless about tone and nuance as John is about Doris. While the plot and characters hint at something poignant, even something disturbingly painful about growing old alone, the movie itself is played almost as farce.
Field is decked out like a lunatic – part Minnie Pearl, part Delta Dawn, and altogether pitiful. Yet her loneliness, her despair and her disconnection are played for real. And because Field is as good as she is, we feel every bit of it.
If this and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” are Hollywood’s idea of what women want, I’d just as soon they forget about us. As they mostly have anyway.