The theater was not packed, but fuller than expected. From the laughter throughout the screening, Hello, My Name Is Doris certainly found its audience. I cannot recall a film in recent memory that has made audiences guffaw as loud as this one. When the end credits began, I heard a fellow filmgoer whisper to her friend, “That was nice.”
It was not.
I find that audiences can make or break a movie theater experience. If people are talking loudly or are on their phones, they will take your attention away from the film. How many times have you silently cursed at someone for not turning their phone off when it rings in the middle of a pivotal scene?
Yet, when people are so enraptured by a film that they gasp or laugh or scream or cheer, they make the film that much more memorable. Jokes become funnier; monsters become scarier.
I watched Hello, My Name Is Doris with an audience destined to elevate the film. Despite the circumstances, however, I could not enjoy it. While people laughed, I squirmed with embarrassment. When a young woman explained to Sally Field’s Doris that she worked at an LGBT preschool and spelled out what LGBT meant, the people beside me nodded in understanding. I was too caught up in the absurdity of an LGBT preschool that I didn’t even have the chance to roll my eyes at the unnecessary explanation of LGBT. (Since when does a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity impact a preschool curriculum to the point that they need to be taught in a separate school? And if writer-director Michael Showalter is that worried about whether or not people will understand what LGBT means, then why use the acronym at all?) This was just one of many scenes that desperately try to be “hip,” only to fail at relating to anyone. Which is a shame, since the film holds so much promise.
In Hollywood, a relationship with a drastic age difference is normal. Of course, only if the older one is a man. Hello, My Name Is Doris flips the roles and focuses on how Doris Miller (Sally Field) courts her young coworker, John Freemont (Max Greenfield).
This film promises an amusing exploration of a relationship filled with generational misunderstandings and hijinks. What we get is an inside look at the creepy fixation an older woman has for a younger man and how her fantasies blind her from ever seeing him as a person, not an object of desire.
Her fantasies are brought to life throughout the film; one in particular got the biggest laugh of the night. Nonetheless, Doris never actually grows out of them and her actions are propelled solely by the small chance that those fantasies may come true. You would think that once you actually get to know someone, any preconceptions would fade. That is not the case here.
Her inability to face reality could have been the source of great tension in a dramatic film. Doris’ hoarding problem and the loss of her mother take the film in that direction and give us the best scenes and performances. But the film’s commitment to be a comedy and focus on a relationship it does not want us to take seriously results in an odd mix of lighthearted and somber tones.
The film disappoints in the handling of Doris and John’s relationship because they never truly begin one. Any romantic interactions are only found in Doris’ mind and John never shows any interest beyond friendship. For a film that wants to focus on a romance between a woman in her sixties and a man in his thirties, it would be nice for there to be a mutual attraction.
My main criticism lies in Hello, My Name Is Doris’ treatment of Doris. Instead of finding humor in the ridiculous situations Doris finds herself in, the film makes her and her desires the joke. Audiences are supposed to laugh at her, which makes a lot of the humor mean-spirited. Doris is also treated terribly by others and they face no repercussions.
The only good thing to come out of this film is Sally Field. It is because of her that this film works at all. She has moments where she is absolutely precious, some where she is funny, and others where she is heartbreaking. Max Greenfield is there to look pretty, and he does that just fine. That was the sole purpose of his character, which speaks volumes about the story’s quality.
This is one of those weeks where I recommend you don’t go to the movies. Save your money for next week, Batman V Superman looks epic and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 looks just as fun as the first one.
Hello, My Name Is Doris was released in theaters on March 18, 2016.