Friday, April 8, 2016

HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS Radiates Heart and Is Also Hilarious


- As a longtime fan of The State and its many notable alumni, the recent renaissance of State-related projects has been, well, pretty awesome. The recent Wet Hot American Summer series on Netflix was a great way to revisit the group's most popular collaboration. But one cool thing that seemed to come out of the renewed attention on the group was a greater opportunity for them to produce more projects. Several years ago, we got a taste of what a Michael Showalter movie would be like with The Baxter. But his latest, HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS, is a major step forward for the writer/director. Like The Baxter, Showalter's latest mixes the sort of absurdist humor that he patented with The State and Stella with a surprising amount of pathos and heart. Part of the reason that Wet Hot is so funny is that, even in its most absurd moments, it strikes at some sort of universal truth. But DORIS goes a step further, mixing wacky humor with a realness that makes the film's characters feel grounded and multi-dimensional. Sally Field absolutely kills in the title role - it's a performance that's both hilarious and heartfelt.

The film centers around Doris, played by Field - a sixty-something eccentric who has become the quirky older woman in her Millennial-heavy workplace. The joke here is that Doris' well-worn urban quirkiness is a pretty perfect match for her twenty-something co-workers' newfangled urban hipsterism. Doris - with her big glasses, colorful clothes, and general adorkability - was, basically, a hipster before being a hipster was cool. And so, the movie (and Doris) wonders - is it that far-fetched to imagine a May-December romance between Doris and one of her younger hipster acquaintances? This is where Doris' mind wanders to when she meets her newly-transplanted-from-LA co-worker, John (Max Greenfield), who inspires powerful feelings in Doris. John's friendly nature convinces Doris that, perhaps, she actually has a shot of wooing her much-younger colleague.

I can't say enough about Field in this film. It would have been easy to make this a movie in which the joke is on Doris, but that's not what this is at all. Field - enabled by a wonderful script from Showalter - makes Doris someone we can't help but root for and sympathize with. Not just that, but there is actually something much deeper going on with her than just a workplace crush. The movie gives us incredible insight into Doris' world. We see how she has a sweet yet potentially too-co-dependent friendship with longtime confidante Roz (an amazing Tyne Daly) - in a relationship that provides her comfort and routine, but that perhaps holds her back from new experiences and connections. We see how she has an adversarial relationship with her more square, overly-concerned siblings (Stephen Root and Wendi McLendon-Covey - also pretty great) - who worry about Doris' hoarding tendencies, among other things. Field isn't afraid to go to some pretty dark places. There is something genuinely wounded about Doris. But there is also an un-extinguishable light - a dogged determination to be who she wants to be and live life her way. Doris prides herself on marching to the beat of her own drummer. She doesn't want to be put into a box, but she realizes, more and more, that perhaps she's become confined in a box of her own making. Field pulls off the movie's light, funny, absurdist moments with aplomb and perfect comic timing. But she also has moments that are incredibly moving and even intense. I don't know if her performance will come up at all in terms of Oscar consideration - but it most definitely should. This is an all-time amazing turn from Field.

Greenfield is also great, playing a much less cartoonish character than he does as New Girl's Schmidt. But what the film really does well is that it develops the relationship between John and Doris in a way that never devolves into pure movie fluff. Sure, their adventures together take many strange, often hilarious turns. But Showalter never "cheats" - everything that does or does not happen between them feels honest and earned.

Meanwhile, the cast is brimming with fun performances from very funny/talented people. Beth Behrs shines as John's proto-hipster girlfriend. Doris' office-mates consist of the always-funny/always-excellent likes of Kumail Nanjiani, Kyle Mooney, and Natasha Lyonne. Isabella Acres is also great as Tyne Daly's teenage granddaughter, who Doris hilariously turns to for romantic advice, once she enters the world of social media in order to stay connected to John and his world.

I will emphasize: even though DORIS has a surprising amount of dramatic weight, it's also funny as hell. Michael Showalter seems to have struck the exact right balance of drawing from his talent for absurdist comedy and his seeming desire to create works with a little more dramatic heft than the Wet Hot American Summers of the world (don't get me wrong, I worship at the alter of Wet Hot - but it's clear that Showalter is going for something different here). But DORIS hits comedic gold in a number of ways. It's got moments of razor-sharp absurdism. It's got very clever satire of modern Millennial hipsterism. It's got spot-on character-based humor. And it's got the kind of applause-generating funny that can only come when you love the characters in a movie and are 100% invested in them.

Perhaps one of the best compliments I can give to this movie is that, when I saw it at the Arclight Hollywood, the crowd was an eclectic mix of younger New Girl fans, slightly older The State acolytes, and much older Sally Field admirers. All came away raving about the film - everyone seemed to love it equally. That, I think, is a testament to the power of a great movie that works on many levels - brilliantly funny and also radiating with heart. I hope many more Michael Showalter movies will follow.

My Grade: A-

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