Hello, My Name Is Doris
Doris Miller wears a big bow smack in the middle of her hair—a helpful implement that hides the divide between the real stuff and the extensions piled on top. She has a yoga cat calendar. She wears cat eye glasses—sometimes two pairs at once. She, naturally, has a pet cat at home.
It's a home she's always shared with her beloved mother while working, through the decades, at a New York City ad agency. In accounting.
Doris unconsciously sports the kind of eccentricity (she's been known to wear poodle skirts) that inspires knowing looks from co-workers … yet makes her functionally invisible to them as a real human being.
She's just … Doris. She's always just there, nervously inhabiting her anachronistic "cat lady" cubicle, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, as if time has somehow stopped and nothing in her life ever changes.
Until it does.
First, Doris' mom dies. Soon, her brother, Todd, and his wife, Cynthia, pressure her to move out of her Staten Island home—the only place she's ever lived. (So they can sell it, you should know.)
Then John Freemont shows up. He's the dashing new art director at Doris' firm who sets her heart aflutter—in that flushed, pulse-quickening, romance-novel kind of way. And all that twitterpation ricocheting around inside Doris' insides makes her even more bumblingly awkward and erratic than she already was. If that's possible.
It's enough to push a sixtysomething "spinster" over the edge.
So over it she goes.
Doris, of course, is old enough to know that indulging romantic feelings for a hunky guy three decades her junior might not be such a good idea. But John's kind words and increasing attention to her needs tantalizingly suggest that maybe he hasn't gotten the age memo either.
Hello, My Name Is Doris introduces us to some surprisingly deep and poignant themes amid its familiar near-miss mismatched dating scenario: significant subjects such as aging, friendship, family, change, death, personal risk and psychological identity.
John, as mentioned, is especially kind to Doris. And Doris' misinterpretation of that kindness as romantic interest in no way diminishes its significance. Doris also meets many of John's friends, who (along with John) offer her a kind of acceptance and affirmation that has been largely lacking her entire life. For the first time ever, she's hanging out with the "cool kids," and in doing so she feels free to be herself.
Other friends and family members are also there for Doris throughout her "romantic" journey. Her best friend, Roz, repeatedly tries to talk tough-love sense into her. Roz sees clearly that Doris is living in a fantasy world that she can't bring herself to admit. (That causes a rupture in their friendship that's repaired at the end of the film.) Meanwhile, Roz's 13-year-old granddaughter, Vivian, becomes a confidant of sorts for Doris. And about that, Roz wisely tells her friend at one point, "Be careful. … You appear to be taking dating advice from a 13-year-old."
I'll note that the movie doesn't pretend Doris' not-so-wise, not-so-self-aware, not-so-subtle attempt to attract John's attention is going to end well. But it certainly does stretch her out of her cat-loving comfort zone, sometimes in pretty unexpected ways.
Doris' sacrifices for her family are highlighted, and her brother's critical spirit and manipulative behavior is rebuked. And Doris realizes—on her own, not because of her brother's manipulation—that the time has indeed come for her to move out, move on, and bravely begin a new chapter of her life. One gets the sense that even though she's struggled, she's still up to the task.
The funeral for Doris' mother takes place in a church with a cross visible in the background. An organist plays "Amazing Grace." A Monty Python-esque priest proclaims, "Sometimes God taketh away what God hath giveneth." There are jokes about Jewish stereotypes and a reference to someone exchanging a therapist for a psychic. John invites an Eastern mysticism practitioner to his house to get rid of "bad karma" (and we see her waving incense around). There are significant references to positive-thinking remedies for life's problems and Doris being a "green bowl of glowing light."
A dream sequence involves Doris fantasizing about purposely spilling coffee on John's shirt and watching him take it off—then kissing him. She wears a low-cut dress to a party, gets drunk and tries to make out with John on his bed (a proposition he hastily rejects). She's shown in a camisole.
We see online images of scantily clad women. There's sensual dancing at a club. A poem involves two naked people. There's talk of an orgy and a high schooler's sexual relationship with her psychologist. Fairly explicit sexual double entendres include references to intercourse and orgasms. It's implied that an unmarried couple is having sex.
[Spoiler Warning] Distraught when she discovers that John is in a relationship already, Doris posts a suggestive social media message implying that she too is intimate with him. It's a deceitful ploy that successfully ends the younger couple's relationship.
One of John and Doris' co-workers complains that the legalization of gay marriage has increased pressure on guys like him to hurry up and find someone to marry; he turns up at a party with a man he says he met on Tinder. One of John's friends gushes about working at a "gay preschool" where, she says, "All my kids identify as either lesbian, gay, transsexual or bisexual."
Doris jokes about death. Someone admits she was once a cutter.
Crude or Profane Language
A dozen or so f-words and just shy of 10 s-words. We hear "a--hole" once. We see an obscene gesture. God's name is abused six or seven times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Characters drink wine and beer throughout. Doris is clearly drunk twice; she deals with disappointment by bingeing at home until she passes out.
Other Negative Elements
As mentioned, Doris' brother and sister-in-law treat her pretty shabbily. John is a nice guy who genuinely likes Doris. But he eventually confesses that part of the reason he's been so nice to her is that he'd hoped to set her up with his uncle. Doris treasures a pencil she stole from John's satchel.
John announces his urinary needs.
Hello, My Name Is Doris is a textbook coming-of-age story … except for the tiny little fact that the person coming of age in this poignant, painful story isn't a teenager. She's already aged. Still, it's not that far removed from the kind of quirky, lovable-ugly-duckling movie I could have seen John Hughes making were he still around today. Instead of Sixteen Candles, it's more like Sixty-Six Candles.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly and People magazines' editorial director, Jess Cagle, actress Sally Field compared her character to an awkward adolescent just learning to express her personality and emotions: "She's emotionally sort of stunted in a way. … So her emotions just lingered and stayed dormant somewhere inside of her. And when she decides to move on, you see her just take this burst and move forth in all the awkward, painful newness that adolescence is."
Thus, the "romance" here serves as a plot catalyst for an aging, lonely, yet suddenly hopeful woman to reexamine who she is. Field says that the "boy crush" is just a narrative hook: "But it really is about this bait, this something that pulls you out of where you are, and invites you to move on in your life. That's the challenge for all of us as human beings. How do we move on to the next chapter in our lives and stay open to who is next? Who will I be next? What else will happen? What else will I become? Or will we cling to the safety of who we once were?"
Those sorts of questions push this idiosyncratic indie pic beyond the standard-issue romcom boundaries into something deeper and more meaningful. Inspiring, even, when you look at it with your head cocked a bit. It's just too bad Hello, My Name Is Doris didn't say good-bye to more of the genre's other standard trappings—the profanity and sexual stuff.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Sally Field as Doris Miller; Max Greenfield as John Fremont; Beth Behrs as Brooklyn; Stephen Root as Todd; Wendi McLendon-Covey as Cynthia; Elizabeth Reaser as Dr. Edwards; Tyne Daly as Roz; Isabella Acres as Vivian; Peter Gallagher as Willy Williams
Michael Showalter ( )
March 11, 2016
June 14, 2016