Is every single woman over the age of 50 doomed to be seen as a crazy cat lady? Judging by Hello, My Name is Doris, the answer is yes. Sally Field gives a valiant performance as Doris, an older woman who hoards magazines, uses Windows 95 and wears kooky sweaters. As if her “quirky” wardrobe wasn’t degrading enough, she also develops an unrequited crush on a young co-worker that borders on delusional. If Doris were a full-fledged comedy, the film might succeed. Its jokes, though clichéd, could live inside a happy, surreal comic universe. Instead, the film strives for moments of seriousness and even with Field’s supreme talent in the mix, it’s not enough to turn sitcom writing and a cornball plot into something truly meaningful.

Doris (Field) doesn’t have cats, but she does live alone in a house that’s filled with crap. Her mother has just died and now she’s on her own in their cluttered Staten Island home. Her brother (Stephen Root) and his wife (the always funny Wendi McLendon-Covey) urge her to sell the house and move on but Doris refuses. She takes comfort in the stuff. Writer-Director Michael Showalter (co-writer of Wet Hot American Summer) makes her inability to shed her junk into a recognizable symbol of denial/growth but the subplot never rises above the emotional maturity of a “Hoarders” rerun.

Doris has a data-entry job in the city at some kind of impossibly hip media company where the employees never seem to do work. While riding the elevator into the office, she’s squeezed beside the new guy John (Max Greenfield), a bachelor with the sort of sterling good looks that belong in toothpaste commercials. With the words of a motivational speaker ringing in her head (“I’m possible”), she falls for John’s beaming smile and suddenly, he’s the only thing she can think about. Once again, a smart, independent female character is consumed by the quest for a man’s love. Showalter is smart enough to know John’s affection is a proxy for larger issues, but that still turns Doris into a kind of pathetic, what-not-to-be character.

Doris’s best friend Roz (Tyne Daly) dismisses the crush but Doris is pursues it with a mix of determination and lunacy. Roz’s thirteen-year-old niece helps Doris create a fake social media profile and she attempts to add John as a friend. Oh no—an old person uses Facebook! It’s a tired joke that isn’t even accurate. As When We’re Young cleverly showed, older generations are often just as eager to pick up the latest technology as younger ones, if not to tweet, then at least to play Farmville.

Doris sees a therapist (Elizabeth Reaser), but the sessions don’t offer the excitement of John and her new friends in the Brooklyn nightlife scene that embrace her (ironically). The romance between John and Doris is silly and fine until Doris takes it too far. She’ll do anything for his attention, even if it means wearing neon, listening to indie pop and taking a ferry and two trains to a Williamsburg on a Saturday night. Field is endearing, but a little annoying. Are we laughing with her or at her? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Hello, My Name is Doris could be seen as some kind of modern update of Harold and Maude but it has none of that film’s hippie charm. Instead, it inverts the hierarchy of knowledge so that the younger generation is cool and the older one gets mocked. And while Harold and Maude’s relationship thrived off the exhilaration of bold ideas and experiences, the flirtation between John and Doris never transcends the feeling of an awkward date.

Beth Behrs (“2 Broke Girls”) lights up the screen as John’s hip girlfriend, as does Natasha Lyonne, an actress with the sort of deadpan delivery that makes every word in the English language funny. When Doris goes out in Brooklyn and someone tells her about their job teaching at an “LGBT pre-school,” the film gets close to what it should have been: a comedy that makes fun of all of ages and sensibilities. Instead, Doris’s therapist cracks down on clean-up and Doris is forced to reconcile with a life that hasn’t been a very happy one.

Hello, My Name is Doris is the latest in a wave of baby-boomer comedies. A legendary generation of actors is getting older and they’re creating a need for new roles and stories. Last year, we had Lily Tomlin as a cantankerous widow in Grandma and Judi Dench adventuring in India in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This senior-com genre is a welcome development, telling stories about how one negotiates the experience of being old with a mind that isn’t. We can only hope their jokes about aging go beyond tech-illiteracy, power-walking and cats.

  • The Big Sick

    The Big Sick is that rare film that reminds us, through both wry humor and understated poi…
  • Copshop

    A hard boiled pressure-cooker whose smaller scale only intensifies the tension and eventua…
  • Oeuvre: Melville: The Silence of the Sea

    What emerges is the story of two people holding off against the forces of occupation in th…
  • Fire Music

    It’s a no-brainer for anybody who listens to experimental music. But the film’s success is…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Oeuvre: Soderbergh: sex, lies, and videotape

Soderbergh’s first feature film was allegedly written by the director on a legal pad in ei…