Review: Hello, My Name is Doris
A story about a pitiable lonely older woman who overreaches romantically in a very funny wayRegardless of what people say, we all love romantic comedy. Since the dawn of theatre and cinema, the rom-com has been a constant box-office winner and the preferred heart-warmer around the world. But they come in cruel versions too, especially the ones that depict forbidden love across age or cultural barriers. The film Hello, My Name is Doris (2015) is one of the cruellest rom coms you will find because it ridicules a hopeless quest for love. An older man falling for a teenage girl is dignified with a name like ‘Lolita syndrome’ but its big laughs all round when a 60-ish plain woman falls head over heels for a 30-ish hipster man. Is there a gender issue here?
After her mother’s funeral, spinster Doris (Sally Field) is unencumbered for the first time in her life, except for an ageing cat. She yearns for excitement while there is still time and when she brushes up close to new boss John (Max Greenfield) it triggers a flush of fantasy that he feels something for her. From this central premise the script goes downhill, but it is Sally Field that saves the movie. All the ageist gags that litter the genre are dragged out: she enlists a granddaughter to help stalk him via Facebook; turns up at music gigs looking endearingly oddball; and is featured on an album cover because of her dorky eccentricity. John is too nice a guy to rebuff Doris, so there is an ambiguous possibility that the film might turn out to be an erotic thriller or romantic drama. The diversionary sub-plot of Doris’s brother plotting to sell mum’s house gives Sally a chance to display her dramatic skill in non-comedic ways, but otherwise it’s a simple plotline punctuated mainly by self-inflicted embarrassment and auto-erotic longings.
Sally Field is marvellous as Doris and her wide-eyed innocence still does the trick. Her acting is finely balanced between being certifiably insane and pathetically entrapped by her desperate need for love. The boss is so naively tolerant of her odd behaviour that it is entirely believable he has no idea what’s going on in her head. Younger audiences will belly laugh at the expense of the invisible generation, although those with compassion will feel for her and maybe get a glimmer of what the phrase ‘pathetically hopeless love’ means. Whichever way you look at it, this is a story about a pitiable lonely older woman who overreaches romantically, but in a very funny way.