Hello, My Name is Doris
It seems like most of the things “ironically” embraced by hipster culture fall into two groups: working class stuff, and old stuff. Grow a Smith Brothers beard and chug a $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon while wearing a trucker cap and a set of vintage overalls and you’re set. It’s only natural they’d fall all over Sally Field’s character in Hello, My Name is Doris, a sixty-something data-entry holdover from the old days at her company who lives near the Staten Island dock of the ferry she takes to her lower Manhattan office every day.
The thing I’ve never really been able to figure out about hipsters is just how ironic their whimsies are. When Doris falls into the circle of her younger co-workers, do they really like her, or is she just another kitschy ornament for their parties? The script, co-written by director Michael Showalter and Laura Terruso (of Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same), walks the line between the two possibilities.
It’s clear that some of them (like Kumail Nanjiani, Natasha Lyonne, and Rich Sommer) are just in it for the laughs, to the extent they pay any attention beyond bemused disinterest. But the new art director, John (Max Greenfield), on whom Doris fixates after the death of her mother, seems to genuinely enjoy her company. Although of course he doesn’t feel — or notice — the romantic way she feels about him. As far as he’s concerned, she’s just a cool old lady who happens to like the same electropop band he does.
For the most part, Doris is too distracted by her crush on John to think there could be anything insincere about the young people around her. Her long-time friend, Roz (Tyne Daly), is suspicious, but Roz’ daughter encourages this new obsession, even helping Doris set up a fake Facebook account to gather information that might help win John’s heart.
It’s probably for the best that the script plays so gently with Doris’ feelings here, since it’s got quite a wringer to put her through on another front. As you might expect, her fixation on John is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg. She still lives in the same house she grew up in, and she and her mother developed some pretty bad hoarding tendencies. Her brother and his wife (Stephen Root and Wendi McLendon-Covey) want her to get rid of all the junk and move out so they can sell the house, but Doris clings to her home as strongly as, well, as she does to her fantasies about John.
But, lest you think this is a big downer at a poor old lady’s expense, it’s also hilarious, and never mean-spiritedly so. Maybe the lead singer of Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winters is making fun of her when he asks if she’ll be the cover model for their next album, and maybe he isn’t, but either way she’s having fun like she hasn’t in years. Field’s wonderful facial expressions and impeccable timing are a joy; they remind us that she hasn’t lost a step since she won her first Academy Award over thirty years ago. And she reminds us that it’s never too late to find something to love fully, sincerely, and never ironically.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: pass.