Lawrence Toppman

Field rises to a high point, but ‘Doris’ sinks nonetheless

Roadside Attractions Films

Would we be expected to find “Hello, My Name is Doris” funny or charming if the last word in the title were “Donald”?

What would we make of a movie where a dowdy man in his late 60s hunkered for a hot female employee half his age? Would we be sympathetic if he invented a fake Facebook profile with the photo of a younger, handsome guy and flirted with her online? Would we be amused if he followed her around New York City surreptitiously and created phony “encounters,” trying to break up her romance with a more suitable man?

The warmth and acting expertise of Sally Field make such bizarre behavior tolerable when the pursuer is female, but I still had no idea how to react to Doris Miller. I suspect her pursuit of John Fremont (Max Greenfield) is meant to be life-affirming, but I cringed first at her obstinate self-delusion and then at her improbable epiphany.

Doris begins entirely as a pathetic figure. She wears a frumpy wig, has few social skills, lives alone in the Staten Island house where she has spent all her life and suffers from a mental illness: She hoards hundreds of useless objects, from a single ski to a bucket full of empty shampoo bottles, because those alone give her life meaning.

After she attends a self-help seminar run by a guru who tells her to “turn im-possible into I’m possible,” she launches a campaign to conquer Fremont. She starts listening to music he likes, buys small things for him and inserts herself into his life. An old friend (Tyne Daly) tells Doris she’s off-course, but Fremont finds her endearing enough to incorporate into his life as a curiosity.

The script by Laura Terruso and director Michael Showalter, who adapted Terruso’s 9-minute film “Laura and the Intern,” asks us to accept many improbabilities.

Fremont grants Facebook friend status to a woman he has never met; he’s blind to Doris’ consistent and intrusive interest, taking it for workplace amiability; John’s friends embrace her at once, finding her insularity and old-fashioned habits fresh and appealing. Conversations stop at the exact moment when misunderstandings would immediately be cleared up if they continued.

The reason to see the movie is Field, who earned two Oscars by 1984 and has been ill-used or underused for 32 years. She’ll be 70 in November and can still turn your heart inside out in a moment of pathos, and she occasionally elevates “Doris” to something profound.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Hello, My Name is Doris’

Cast: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Tyne Daly.

Director: Michael Showalter.

Length: 90 minutes.

Rating: R (language).

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