It’s been a couple of decades since Sally Field had a strong leading role onscreen, but the two-time Oscar-winning star of Norma Rae and Places in the Heart now has another award-worthy winner. Hello, My Name Is Doris, the Audience Favorite at last year’s SXSW Film Festival opens Friday via Roadside Attractions. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), big, full-blown parts like these for actresses over 60 have been rare in Hollywood, but in the past year we have seen a resurgence for the likes of Helen Mirren, Blythe Danner, Lily Tomlin, Charlotte Rampling and Maggie Smith in indie hits, and I have a feeling this Field vehicle will follow in their footsteps as a success story. It deserves to be.
Doris’ life seems to have passed her by as she has spent much of it caring for her mother and living in a home that looks like the residence of a hoarder. As the film opens, she is at her mother’s funeral, a key event that leads to a life change. Inspired by a self-help lecture called “I’m Possible,” Doris becomes re-energized with the arrival of a new co-worker John (Max Greenfield 0f New Girl), a much-younger man she immediately becomes smitten with and fantasizes about. Although he is very friendly toward her, the romantic feelings aren’t mutual. Undaunted in this first stab at real love, the 60ish Doris sets about dressing even more colorfully than usual and friending him via a fake Facebook identity in order to learn more about him — at one point deliberately attending the same concert by a band he and his friends are really into. She’s not a stalker, though — just acting more like a teenager obsessed with a boy.
This is the basis of the screenplay from writer-director Michael Showalter and co-writer Laura Terruso (based on a short film she made while in college), But it really serves as a fine character study of a woman looking for one last chance at happiness and deciding to take it, even if those around her just demand she act her age. This role looks like it could have been written for Field, though the truth is, with a budget of just $1 million, the producers never dreamed they could get her. But this star clearly knows a good thing when she sees it, and the Doris role offers her a range from broad comedy to deep emotional breakdowns that is the envy of any actor. Field delivers on all counts, showing her well-known acting chops in scenes with tonal shifts that could defeat a lesser talent.
The supporting cast is perfectly chosen too. Greenfield nails nice guy John with the perfect balance of charm and empathy for Doris. Tyne Daly is a hoot as her confidante and best friend, Roz. Stephen Root is Doris’ insensitive brother, and Beth Behrs gets a nice couple of moments as Greenfield’s real girlfriend. Considering the low budget and three-week shooting schedule, production values are high, and Showalter deftly navigates the landscape of a story that takes risky emotional detours and makes them pay off. Daniel Taplin Lundberg, Riva Marker, Daniel Crown, Jordana Mollick and Kevin Mann are the producers.
Do you plan to see Hello, My Name Is Doris? Let us know what you think.