Film & Television

Sally Field, Still Surprising at 69 in ‘Hello, My Name is Doris’



Sometimes after a death, though, there is danger that the person will over-identify with the lost loved one. Taking on a characteristic of someone who has died is a way of trying to hold on and keeping him or her alive. It seems that Doris and her mother have been hoarding for years, and they are painted as a less pathological Big Edie and Little Edie from Grey Gardens (they only have one cat). Doris’s brother and transparently greedy wife begin expressing concern even at the funeral that she may be “turning into” her mother, and suggest that what she really needs to do is clear the house of all its junk, sell it (so they can split the profits) and move on to something new.

It’s easy to see how this film could have been a misfire in the wrong hands. There are so many ways in which the material is both sad and awkward if it hits the wrong notes. But in the capable hands of Michael Showalter, the tone is set just right between absurdity and warmth. Showalter, who is best known for the comedies Wet Hot American Summer (2001), and its sequel, released last year, also made an indie cult classic titled The Baxter (2005). He wrote, directed and starred in this film in which the term “Baxter” is used to refer to the guy in a romantic movie who is a nice, but dull guy who usually gets dumped at the end by a beautiful woman for a more exciting man. Filled with wonderful supporting performances by Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Williams, Paul Rudd, and Peter Dinklage, here Showalter also demonstrates his ability to show flawed and awkward characters with charm and affection.

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In My Name is Doris, a therapist (Elizabeth Reaser)  with a specialty in hoarding is brought in to help Doris with her flaws, and she seems professional and concerned. She makes a house call to help Doris sort through her belongings by deciding what she wants to keep, donate or throw away. Everyone will recognize themselves in this rueful and funny scene as Doris struggles over the fate of one wooden ski, a gift from a neighbor with “sentimental value” and a bowl with 20 shampoo bottles that she wants to keep because “someday I might need them.” And who hasn’t kept those old magazines around because, as Doris points out, “I’m not finished reading them?”

The visit is derailed by her sister-in-law, who, in contrast to the therapist’s gentle approach, begins throwing things out at random. This leads Doris to confront her and her brother, who insist that she is holding up their lives. She counters by asking where were they all those years when she was literally buried in this house and not moving forward.

The story, narratively and psychologically speaking, is about how Doris learns to break free and move forward. You could call it a “coming of age” story, complete with a mentor (the 13-year-old Vivian) and several wrong turns.  But like all good coming of age stories, the heroine’s challenges are key to her ability to change. And this delightful film shows that we are never too old for what comes next.

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  • Adrian Miller March 28, 2016 at 7:10 am

    I love Sally Field however I found this film so embarrassing that I actually cringed at some parts of it.

    If this is the best that we can do for mature women then the film industry is doomed.

  • B.Elliott March 24, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    Wonderfully written review! I want to see this.