I’ll say this: the trailer for this film is misleading. I expected a quirky, small-studio comedy with some unusual sexual tension. And indeed, half-way through the movie, I began to wonder if my choice to see it was a mistake. Doris Miller, played to perfection by Sally Field (Sybil, Steel Magnolias, Lincoln), is a 60-something, unmarried, lonely Staten-Islander undergoing a later-life crisis. Doris develops a dangerously strong crush on John Fremont, her much younger coworker, played appropriately by Max Greenfield (New Girl, American Horror Story).
Her awkward wooing of John seems to be going strangely well, and her small life is suddenly flooded with meaning. She can’t stop smiling. It made me cringe in the darkness of the movie theatre. Is this it? I wondered. Is Hello, My Name is Doris just another off-beat romantic comedy? Just then, the story took a plunge into a much darker, more honest place.
You see, Doris is a hoarder. As a younger woman, she turned down an engagement with a sweet man in order to live with and care for her aging mother. When prompted, Doris says that the proposed marriage “would have killed her (mother)” and that Doris “just couldn’t.” Years of caregiver stress have worn our heroine down. After her mother’s death, when her lovely therapist and slightly cruel siblings arrive to help her clean out her impossibly cluttered home, Doris snaps.
The outburst is very Sybil-esque, and one I understand quite well. I serve as a full-time caregiver for my grandparents and have wanted to smash many a plate in utter angst. The sense of love and duty in no way alleviates the frustration, and the result for me has been an imposed pressure-cooker of stress and rage. The feelings sometimes produce a batty mania; other times, frenzied tears. I definitely saw myself in this scene.
Writers Laura Terruso (Fits and Starts, It Gets Bitter) and Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer, They Came Together) don’t shy away from the drama, suggesting that PTSD need not be associated only with soldiers and crime victims.
Showalter, who is also the director, impresses his quirky style upon the piece, replete with strange silences and silly daydream sequences that fool the audience into thinking they are really happening until they’re almost over. The individuality of Doris’ character reflects this. Deep down, everybody’s a bit zany.
Tyne Daly (Christy, Judging Amy) also works beautifully in the supporting role of Doris’ best friend Roz. If you’ve ever wanted to see an incensed Tyne Daly chase a voluptuous young twenty-something about an indoor track after a heated verbal altercation, this is your chance.
Just like the clutter in Doris’ home, the rest of the story plays out in layers like emotional lasagna. The way Showalter chips away at the mess left me feeling light and bouncy, and a bit naughty for having caught a double feature by myself on a Thursday morning. I also had the nagging feeling that I needed time for my brain to sort out what Hello, My Name is Doris was trying to say. In retrospect, I learned from Doris that it’s never too late, or early, to overhaul a psyche.
That, and there is a huge difference between pretending to clean house, and actually cleaning house. One usually feels pretty good. The other can hurt like a bitch.