The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Hello, My Name Is Doris

Hello, My Name Is Doris offers a new spin on the romantic comedy. It's not a typical boy-meets-girl story. It's not about lovers from the wrong side of the tracks. It's not about a woman dating an overgrown man-boy. Instead, the film directed and co-written by Wet Hot American Summer's Michael Showalter is about an older woman and a younger man, and it involves a romance where only one of the participants may be in love.

Sally Field plays Doris Miller, a sixty-something hoarder mourning the death of her beloved mother, with whom she lived. Her brother (Stephen Root) and sister-in-law (Wendi McLendon-Covey) want her to clear out all the unneeded belongings and sell the house, but she resists. The frumpy Doris, who often wears mismatched clothing and a pair of reading glasses over her regular eyeglasses, finds a ray of light in her life when a handsome new coworker, John Fremont (Max Greenfield), arrives at the office where she works. After attending a self-help seminar, she convinces herself that she should make a move on him, no matter how unlikely a romance may seem. After setting up a fake Facebook profile to get information on John, Doris finds ways to bond with him. He thinks she's cool and interesting, but every time she tries to seal the deal, he somehow pulls away.

The manner in which Hello, My Name Is Doris depicts the character's efforts to get close to John provides for some very funny moments. Doris has a best friend (Tyne Daly) whose 13-year-old granddaughter dispenses dating advice. Doris also pretends to be a fan of an EDM musician (played by Jack Antonoff of the band Bleachers) because she knows he is John's favorite. When she shows up at a concert hoping to bump into her crush, the movie hilariously examines the way all the hipsters in attendance view her, and how she views them. The comedy here is often observational, with a keen insight into the ways people attempt to connect or find reasons to connect with each other.

At the same time, there is enormous heart in the film. It's more than just a story about an older woman with a cute infatuation. Doris comes to believe that she can really win John's love. Her frustration that things keep stopping at a certain point makes you feel great empathy for what she's going through. Certain plot developments open the character up, showing how deep her vulnerabilities run and why her friendship with John means so much to her. While you may initially giggle at Doris's clueless quirkiness, over time you come to care deeply about whether she can repair the emotionally damaged parts of herself.

Sally Field delivers one of the finest performances of her career in the lead role. It would be easy to make Doris so kooky that she becomes unidentifiable, but the actress never lets that happen. She digs deep into the character, finding humanity buried beneath layers of unflattering clothing and awkward social skills. Field creates a portrait of a woman beaten down by grief, insecurity, and almost compulsive wool gathering. Max Greenfield provides a nice balance as John, a seemingly normal, well-adjusted guy who senses, and responds to, something earnest in Doris. Through his beautifully honed performance, we understand why John cannot write this older woman off, even though they don't seem to have much in common. Quiet scenes between the two actors are the best parts of Hello, My Name Is Doris.

In a few sequences, the comedy feels just a tiny bit forced, and the resolution to Doris's hoarding problem is oversimplified to allow for a neat-and-tidy payoff. A couple of supporting characters in her office could have been developed more, too. (When you have actors like Kumail Nanjiani and Natasha Lyonne, it's natural to want to see more of them.) Those things aside, there is a lot of laughter and a lot of pathos in Hello, My Name Is Doris, all leading to a pitch-perfect final scene. When the movie cuts to black, you can't help but smile at the realization that every person, no matter how odd they might appear on the surface, is full of potential for love and happiness.

( out of four)

Hello, My Name Is Doris is rated R for language. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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