An elderly woman pursuing her hot, younger coworker could sound like a straightforward, uncreative story, but “Hello, My Name Is Doris” creates an arc as much about an endearing woman exploring society as it is about her lust.
The film is about Doris Miller, a shy packrat in her late 60s who works at a hipster fashion company in New York City, played wonderfully by Sally Field (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”). She hasn’t had much of a chance to live freely as she has been dutifully living with her mother, a hoarder who passes away at the beginning of the film. After attending a lecture by a motivational speaker, Doris is inspired to make a change. Right from the get-go we see Doris’s internal conflict. Her world is turned upside down with the timely arrival of new handsome coworker John Fremont (Max Greenfield, “Veronica Mars”). After being sensually squished together in a cramped elevator at work, Doris becomes smitten with John.
At first I was concerned she would wreak havoc on John’s life as she becomes obsessed with her love for him, like in the 2003 French film “He Loves Me … He Loves Me Not” that also has a plot sparked by a chance encounter. Thankfully, Doris’s integrity as her own person is consistent throughout, keeping her from seeming silly as she chases a man decades younger than her. The way she falls in love at first doesn’t feel so cliché after knowing her restrained past, keeping the focus on Doris growing. With her tough best friend Roz (Tyne Daly, “Judging Amy”) and Roz’s granddaughter (Isabella Acres, “Sofia the First”) by her side, Doris successfully enters a friend group of millennial coworkers who appreciate her interesting fashion sense. These millennials provide much needed insight into the younger generation as she navigates spending time with John. The plot takes dramatic turns, keeping Doris from feeling wacky. It also grounds her in the real struggles of reaching old age, making her story go beyond the surface humor to incorporate striking perspectives on aging as well.
Sally Field is completely lovable as Doris, one of the best elements of the film in spite of her eccentricities and far-fetched goals. Not even her addiction to romance novels can make the way she tackles her affection for John predictable, nor the outcomes of her attempts to pursue him. Her frequently amazed face conveys a delightful optimism you would expect to have been extinguished by her age. Seeing an older woman so resolved to enjoying life and loving more reminds me of another talented actress, Ruth Gordon as Maude in “Harold and Maude.” I’m happy that Field is able to land another stellar role in her long career as she nears 70, knowing that actresses tend to struggle to find leading roles as they age.
Though Field is very funny, the humor of the film fell flat at times. As Doris makes friends with young adults, there were jokes about the growing reliance on technology and the increased visibility of the LGBTQ community. While never mean-spirited, they did a poor job of showing the difficulty of Doris’s dream to get with her young coworker by illustrating how wide the age gap is between them.
The most exciting thing about “Hello, My Name Is Doris” is Field’s return as a leading lady. The film revolving around Doris to incorporate its commentary on millennials and New York City, is successful overall, though not overwhelmingly so. But with the lead being as comic yet realistic as Doris, rooting for her is entertaining from start to finish.