The May-through-December romance is nothing new, cinematically speaking. In fact, it’s rather routine to see a man in his 50s courting and eventually bedding a woman half his age on any given outing to the theater. No one really bats an eye when middle-aged Michael Douglas started doing the horizontal mambo with Demi Moore or Sharon Stone. Few people seem to care when Bruce Willis is romantically entangled with a girl who would probably still get carded if she tried to buy wine coolers, or when Johnny Depp ends up co-starring—and then getting sweaty—with Amber Heard, who is young enough to be his daughter. But when it’s an older woman and a younger man onscreen it’s often fodder for awkward comedy or incredulous fantasy.
“Hello, My Name is Doris” is a quirky dramedy using that very premise. Doris (Sally Field) is a woman in her 60s who becomes obsessed with a new employee in her office, John (Max Greenfield). Doris is an honest, soft-spoken woman who struggles to adjust after the death of her mother, for whom she had cared most of her adult life. Now, free of familial obligations, Doris has an opportunity to get a life. This isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds, thanks to the ever-changing cultural landscape of New York City.
After a self-help seminar, she tries to take a more proactive approach to making her fantasies a reality. Doris’ attempt to reclaim a life for herself is hilariously painted across a canvas of hipsters who now populate the various boroughs of New York City. After she follows John to a concert, she sticks out like a sore thumb, which garners the attention of everyone there. Her antiquated wardrobe and sense of fashion is seen by the hipster elite as “antique chic.”
While John takes an interest in Doris, it’s strictly platonic. He is genuinely interested in her as a person and brings out an inner glow that has been dormant for quite some time. Unfortunately the throbbing physical attraction isn’t shared by John. When he begins to date a woman his own age, Doris devolves into Lucille Ball mode and follows him around the city. After a not-so-chance encounter, she ends up befriending John’s girlfriend, Brooklyn (Beth Behrs). As the chances of a romantic entanglement with John begin to deteriorate, so does Doris’ mental state. She’s already dealing with a handful of issues that often plague the aged spinster, most notably a collection of junk that would take a season of “Hoarders” to sort through.
Doris is a character with a great deal of complexity. She’s the kind of woman not often portrayed in film: saddled with baggage and pines for a life not lived. Sally Field is really wonderful in the role and helps create a three-dimensional character who is capable of making audiences laugh and cry. The film also benefits from an exceptional supporting cast, including the great Tyne Daly and some recognizable character actors like Stephen Root (“Office Space”) and Wendi McLendon-Covey (“The Goldbergs”).
Writer/Director Michael Showalter has shown a great range of comedic talent throughout the years, most notably for his work in the sketch-comedy group The State and helping create cult films like “Wet Hot American Summer.” “Hello My Name is Doris” feels like an evolutionary step in terms of creativity. There are trademark flourishes of his eccentric brand of comedy, but there’s a level of humanity and character creation that he achieves like a seasoned dramatic pro.
“Hello, My Name is Doris” is a wonderful film, mostly due to the performances but also in how it captures New York City in a way that feels like early Woody Allen movies. There’s a flux between the way the city once was and what it has become. While the story might be familiar, flourishes are expertly crafted, and it ends up feeling like far more than a character study in melancholy. There are moments where the film shares a kinship with classic stories like “The Glass Menagerie” or “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” However, much like life, the film never devolves into grand melodrama or outright fantasy. “Hello My Name is Doris” is a nice independent gem and really deserves to be seen.