Hot Take: Sally Field delivers an Oscar-worthy performance in an unexpected and delightfully quirky film. Hello, My Name Is Doris is the most surprising film so far of 2016… and one of the best.
Typically, I’m cynical when it comes to what I like to refer to as “Indie film porn” such as Hello, My Name Is Doris. Last year’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Mistress America, Grandma and The Lady in the Van were all overrated disappointments overly praised by those who can’t help themselves when it comes to limited releases destined for an art house run. The last two — Grandma and The Lady in the Van — featured performances by actresses with deep resumes (Lily Tomlin in Grandma and Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van) who did their usual solid work but, for some unknown reason, were given Academy Award nominee-like praise.
When heading to see Hello, My Name Is Doris, I had high hopes but tempered expectations as I’ve done this dance too often. Ironically, it was a dance late in the first act that changed my outlook on this film and won me over. In one of the best scenes in the film, Doris Miller (Sally Field) pops in a CD by the film’s indie-band parody, Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winters, in an effort to connect with her object of affection, new co-worker John Fremont (Max Greenfield). As the 69-year-old lets the odd electronic punk sounds sink in, an odd, jittery and hilarious dance comes out of her that is both delightful and unusual to say the least.
Hello, My Name Is Doris is actually a “coming of age” tale told to near perfection by director Michael Showalter (who also adapted the film from a short film by NYU student Laura Terruso). To hear “coming of age” tied to a film about a 69-year-old woman dealing with the recent loss of her mother whom she cared for most of her life should tell you how different this film is. Even when the script fails to be as compelling as it could be, there’s Field whose got enough compelling scenes to carry even the dullest moments of the movie.
What makes Hello, My Name Is Doris special is it’s sincerity and humanity. While Field’s Doris could be a weird cartoon as many films of a similar nature have a habit of turning their character into for a cheap laugh or two, Doris never feels like a cartoon. She’s animated but never without a sense of realism that make the emotional moments of the film especially powerful.
Hello, My Name Is Doris is fun to watch, funny and touching. Doris is around every laugh but never someone you feel you are laughing at. She’s a sympathetic character who needs no pity but easy to root for as we witness the late bloomer discover herself.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Sally Field
You’ll like her, you’ll really like her. Field’s turn as Doris is, to date, the best performance of 2016. While the talent pool is still a little shallow, it wouldn’t surprising to write those words again in October or later as the contenders begin to show.
- A Comedic Supporting Cast
Many members of the supporting cast are slam dunks when it comes to small, scene stealing roles. Tyne Daly, Natasha Lyonne and Kumail Nanjiani all have very funny moments and, to a lesser extent, so do Peter Gallagher, Kyle Mooney and Stephen Root.
- The Human Element
With a character as quirky as Doris, it would be easy to strip away the humanity and deliver something cartoonish. However, the film avoids this avenue and instead leaves Doris with her dignity and humanity intact.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Hipsters Doth Protest Too Little
There’s this odd trend in film to make today’s young hipster crowd out to be open to everything and rarely skeptical. It feels like the director wants us to consider the younger generation as aloof but they actually look accepting and evolved. Since this is used for comedic effect, this is one of the few times the film swings and misses.