Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hello, My Name is Doris (2016)

Film: Hello, My Name is Doris (2016)
Stars: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Beth Behrs, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Stephen Root, Elizabeth Reaser, Tyne Daly
Director: Michael Showalter
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Sally Field, for those youngsters out there, didn't always just do Boniva commercials and have the occasional side role as Peter Parker's aunt.  She was once a major movie star, throughout the 1980's, in fact, and only transitioned to side roles when she randomly got cast as Tom Hanks mother even though she's only ten years older than him (Tina Fey got a great line about that in an Inside Amy Schumer sketch, pointing out the absurdity).  As a result, this is her first headlining role in a decade, and that alone should be worth celebrating, as Field is a fine actress and one who recently has had a run of good luck between Doris and her Oscar-cited work in Lincoln.  Still, the trailers for Hello, My Name is Doris didn't jive with the reviews, and I was a little concerned I was going to get into a film that showed a goofy lady suddenly finding her own path in a condescending way in Doris.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film doesn't entirely relinquish that concept, but it doesn't become simply a "she's suddenly hip at sixty" sort of situation as well.  The film shows Doris (Field), who in the twilight of her career and approaching retirement and all that comes with that, still wanting to experience life and join in with something new and thrilling.  She falls for her younger costar John (Greenfield), and suddenly finds herself trying to mimic him, stalking him in some cases, in hopes of making the May/December romance happen.  As the film progresses, we see her learn to love herself and actually enjoy the things that she is pretending to love, but still doesn't quite understand the generational gap and the demons she carries around from years of being disappointed in her life and from people not appreciating her sacrifices.

These moments ring the truest to me, and it might be unfair at this point to say it, but we all love movies for specific personal reasons, and in this way I could in some ways relate to Field.  She's twice my age, but the idea of being single and wondering about past regrets and past mistakes and thinking about where your life could have been is something that any person without a ring on their hand (or, I suspect in some cases, any person with the ring on their hand) thinks back upon and wonders.  There are two scenes late in the film where Field just nails the hell out of them.  One is where she's telling John about an engagement she had many years ago, but didn't do because her mother needed her and her fiance wanted to move, and a later scene is where she chastises her brother for not taking care of their mother because he went out and found a family.  The first scene is devastating because Doris, desperate for something better in her life, you can tell hasn't told this story in years or been this open with someone new in years, and you can see the shifts in Doris' reactions as she ponders a life she could have had, filled with a husband and children, but gave up out of trying to please her mother (something rarely discussed in movies where parental sacrifice is more popular, but as we get older we give up things that we wouldn't have if it weren't for parental approval long past childhood).  It's such a focused scene, told matter-of-factly without too much indulgence, but a very real look into a truth Doris doesn't want to evaluate.  When it comes spilling out later in the film, when she points out to her brother that she gave up her youth and life for their mother and then has to find a way to cope with the next 20-30 years of loneliness, it's a reminder of how unfair the world can be to single people in the way that they are expected to pick up the pieces that need to be tended, but married people can't handle due to taking care of the next generation.

The problem the film has is that it can never quite give us this sort of honesty with John and with all of the Generation X/Y-ers that show up in the film.  There's so many scenes with side characters, particularly John but others where they suddenly show not only the truth of ageism toward older people (younger generations frequently at best think of them as curiosities, and at worst think of them as something to be dismissed or forgotten), but also they make the younger generation look like idiots or something to be mocked.  There's a scene where Doris has to encounter a series of hipsters, and while occasionally hipsters are ridiculous, outside of Goose Hollow they are aware of people of other generations and are not so terrificly cloistered that they don't understand that their attitudes could be different from those of a different generation.  They have their own parents, after all.  This is played for laughs, but it feels twee and inauthentic to me, and dismisses all of the care that they put into Doris at the center, a creation that escapes cliche and actually is a really cool part that Field nails.  Supporting player Tyne Daly is also good, it's worth noting before we go, but neither Field or Daly is so excellent that they actually save the movie, which relies on gimmicks and relatively predictable plot points when there's clearly something fascinating going on there in its approach to the way society treats older people, particularly older single people.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  The film was relatively popular, so I'm up for some debate in the comments!  Where do you hope to see Field or Daly go next in their careers, and what aging actress do you hope joins Field (and Blythe Danner & Lily Tomlin) in this most welcome of "see, they can still act" trend?  Share in the comments!

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