Last year we had Carol—a rare type of film due to the story being centered on two non-heterosexual women who are lovers. This year, we have Hello, My Name is Doris, another film I’d also describe as rare due to the film’s focus on an older female character’s romantic life.
The story is about Doris (Sally Field)—an elderly woman working a desk job at one of those modern, hip offices; early on, to Doris’ dismay but the audience’s laughter, the chairs in the office are replaced with rubber balls—it’s that type of company.
Being that it’s a rom-com, the story is two-fold. By this I mean, the romantic narrative is allegorical for the second more dramatic story. In this case, the first narrative deals with Doris’ attempts to woo her new boss, John (Max Greenfield), who is much younger than her. The second narrative deals with Doris’ fear of moving on from her mother’s death. To the chagrin of her brother, Todd (Stephen Root), that fear manifests itself as hoarding. Doris never throws anything away, not even as we’re later told, “Duck sauce from the 1970s.”
While the second narrative does provide characterization for the film, allowing the story to have a sense of progression, the real meat of the film lies in Doris’ romantic pursuit of John. The reason why I find this aspect of the film more interesting is because it’s where most of the comedy lies. I also think, however, it’s also where one of the film’s bigger themes lie; that is, Hello, My Name is Doris is using the age of an elderly character in order to explore modern hipster culture and to ultimately poke fun at its absurdity.
To explain, Doris’ attempts at dating John lead her to participate in group activities with him that she wouldn’t have explored otherwise. One such activity is a concert where Doris is picked up after the show due to her “style.” Doris is subsequently invited to parties where she’s praised and prodded by the youths for her uniqueness.
On the part of the youths, there seems to be an extreme need for authenticity. Doris, who, is an outsider, is the answer they’re looking for; due to her age and withdrawal from society, the modem cultural norms don’t touch Doris and so her way of life is “authentic,” because she’s essentially an outsider.
Michael Showalter who helms the film’s direction, aptly translates the psychological aspect of the need for authenticity into the physicality of the frame. Doris is placed into the center of groups and consequently placed into the center of the frame. Doris’ position in the foreground then marks her “authenticity” in the eyes of the hipsters.
The script, penned by Showalter and co-penned by Laura Terruso, doesn’t so much lambast the hipsters of Hello My Name is Doris so much as it questions their actions as being somewhat juvenile. The characters are given strange hobbies, the more niche the more authentic they seem to be. But the line that really cements how the film itself feels about the characters is when Doris is told by her best friend that, “she’s nothing more than their weird art project.” That line itself recalls how Doris is paraded around for her uniqueness and thereby made the apex of cool in their eyes. In the quest for authenticity the hipsters themselves are made inauthentic.
In its comedic aspect, there’s an element of fantasy to the film. In her performance as Doris, Sally Fields is so delightful and so seemingly innocent that when it turns out the scene we were watching was a sexual fantasy, we can’t help but laugh. Doris is naughty, but aren’t we all? In its treatment of Doris—an elderly woman—the script makes her an everyday person. That’s not to say that Doris doesn’t have emotional or mental issues—she does and they’re explored—but that Doris as an elderly character is a rare exploration of a character that isn’t often seen.
Amy Schumer, who also expanded the types of characters seen on the big screen, has a great sketch on the subject matter. The unawares Schumer stumbles upon her older female cohorts in the industry, who warn her about getting older. The gist of it is that once a woman grows old, Hollywood no longer has a need for her.
Doris as a character is then the antithesis of Hollywood’s refusal of using and normalizing elderly woman. Doris isn’t suffering from Alzheimers, doesn’t live at an elderly home, and isn’t made to be senile. Not that those aren’t worthy topics to discuss in cinema, but that it seems to be the only case where an elderly woman is allowed on screen.
What leaves for wanting in Hello, My Name is Doris is complexity in camera usage. Too often have I watched an indie film that I’ve enjoyed but never left feeling completely satisfied. The narratives and themes are able to be bold due to the lack of creative constraints stemming from producers but what I find missing is a more creative use of the camera or editing. Granted, Hello my Name is Doris may not have needed that camera complexity but to simply relegate the camera to capturing images in non-creative ways leaves something to be wanted.
Hello My Name is Doris is unexpectedly one of the funniest and better movies I’ve seen this year. Although, there’s plenty of films I haven’t watched and even more to come, Sally’s performance as Doris is sweet enough to leave a mark on my memory. While the film is a bit simple, it’s quirky enough to earn a pass on that simplicity.