“Hello, My Name Is Doris” shouldn’t work.
But it has Sally Field front and center and the two-time Oscar winner demonstrates that she’s still got it even when the movie around her does not.
Doris (Field) is a 60-something spinster who, as “Hello…” begins, is burying the mother she has lived with her entire life. In fact, Doris has never spent a night anywhere but in the modest Staten Island home where she grew up.
In lieu of social lives, they were hoarders. Now Doris’ brother and sister-in-law are eager to clean out the house and sell it while the market is booming. The thought of living anywhere else terrifies our heroine.
At least Doris isn’t a total hermit. She has a job as an accountant at a Manhattan clothing design company, where she’s the weird old lady hardly anybody talks to. Her bizarrely colorful fashion sense (among other affectations, she always has a huge bow in her hair) produces much eye rolling among her younger, hipper co-workers.
Except that the newly arrived art director, John (Max Greenfield of TV’s “New Girl”), sees something interesting in this introverted lady who wears two pairs of eyeglasses simultaneously (because it’s cheaper than buying bifocals).
A little friendly attention sends Doris into fantasies of being swept off her feet by this attractive young fellow. And with the assistance of the granddaughter of her one friend (Tyne Daly), she trolls the Internet for info about her dream lover.
Learning that he’s into a bizarre indie rock band, Doris takes the daring step of going out after dark to attend the group’s concert. Perhaps she’ll run into Mr. Wonderful.
Her little scheme is wildly successful. Before long John and his circle of young friends have adopted Doris as their slightly dotty mascot. She’s doing fun things with fun people who find her eccentricities endearing rather than off-putting.
After decades she’s coming out of her shell. But she wants so much more than friendship.
The big issue with “Hello, My Name Is Doris” comes down to tone. This effort from writer/director Michael Showalter (the “Wet Hot American Summer” movies) can’t decide if Doris is a sad, pathetic woman or the life of the party.
In fact, this slight film wants it both ways, to be both a lighthearted, feel-good comedy and something much darker. By not making up its mind, “Hello…” leaves the audience stranded somewhere between gloom-and-doom and fun-and-games. It feels a bit queasy.
Whatever. Field is so solid here that she spans this chasm all by her lonesome.
Doris may be a convenient cinematic conceit, but Field gives her real juice, moving from a timid wraith to someone who realizes, to her amazement, that she might be lovable. Doris doesn’t actually say “You like me. You really like me.” But she could.