“Hello, My Name Is Doris” is at times self-consciously quirky and precious and implausible — and Sally Field is so good in it that those complaints seem pointless.
Director Michael Showalter, who also contributed to the script (the movie is based on Laura Terruso’s short film “Doris & the Intern”), isn’t exactly subtle. He paints in broad strokes, whether a scene calls for drama or comedy. No matter. Field brings a genuineness to the role of Doris Miller, even when the script doesn’t.
Doris works in a data-entry job at some sort of hipster clothing business in Manhattan (taking the ferry from Staten Island every day). She is, to be charitable, rather frumpy, and … of a certain age (in her 60s would be the best guess). We meet her first at her mother’s funeral. She had lived with her, taken care of her and evidently shared her affinity for hoarding.
That’s the vibe we get from Doris’ brother Todd (Stephen Root), and it’s confirmed once Doris arrives home. Why else do you keep a single ski?
When she returns to work she squeezes into a crowded elevator and winds up sardined next to a handsome young man. To her astonishment, he doesn’t ignore her. He straightens her cat-eye glasses and compliments her on them.
At work the ice queen of a boss introduces the new art director, John Fremont (Max Greenfield) — the man in the elevator. Later Doris attends a self-help seminar with her best friend Roz (Tyne Daly); after a brief conversation with the vapid headliner (a pitch-perfect Peter Gallagher), she decides to pursue her dream: a romantic relationship with John.
Unlike the rest of the office staff, who mostly ignore her, John is friendly to Doris. Encouraged, she consults with Roz’s granddaughter Vivian (Isabella Acres) with help on social media, up-to-date music selections and more. This leads to an unlikely relationship, hurtling toward romance in Doris’ eyes, while John’s feelings are not as clear.
How unlikely a relationship? Doris hits the clubs and becomes a favorite of the hipster set, her eccentricities making her a welcome presence among John and his pals. (Her wardrobe lands her on the cover of an electronic dance music CD.)
But stories like this are fraught with misunderstandings. Showalter piles on the uncomfortableness whenever possible. Luckily Field is a gifted enough actress to handle what he tosses her way. In some scenes she’s made to look ridiculous, in ways that go farther than the story demands. Yet she handles these with aplomb. The same goes for the dramatic scenes between Doris and Todd, and Todd’s shrewish wife Cynthia (a startlingly unfunny Wendi McLendon-Covey).
Showalter has trouble with the shifting tone throughout, actually. But Field does not. Greenfield is also good, as is Daly. But this is Field’s film. If it’s possible that a two-time Oscar winner could be underrated, she is (she certainly was by me). There aren’t a lot of choice roles for women over, what, 35 in Hollywood. It’s not even clear this was one of them. Field made it one, and made “Hello, My Name Is Doris” a better movie in the process.
Roadside Attractions presents a film directed by Michael Showalter and written by Showalter and Laura Terruso. Running time: 90 minutes. Rated R (for language). Opens Friday at local theaters.