It’s often said that Hollywood doesn’t have much use for leading ladies who have passed a “certain” age, and that’s a sad state of affairs indeed, especially after you’ve witnessed the sort of comedic magic that Sally Field can still pull off at 69 years of age. My generation has been in love with Sally Field since Smokey and the Bandit (1978), if not earlier. While there’s no denying that Ms. Field is as amusing and charming as ever, it’s more than a little disappointing that we don’t get to see more of the two-time Oscar winner in more current films.
But if you’ve been waiting patiently for someone to come along and give Sally Field a nice, strong vehicle for her comedic talents, I have some very good news; the movie is called Hello, My Name Is Doris, and it showcases the funniest, sweetest, and most endearing Sally Field performance in quite some time.
On paper, the premise sounds like something out of a particularly tacky Lifetime Channel movie (“a sweet, naive, sheltered old lady harbors a devastating crush on a much younger man”), but thanks to a confident directorial touch from Michael Showalter and a surprisingly sincere screenplay (based on a short film by co-writer Laura Terruso), the end result is a light, bright, honest, and occasionally quite touching piece of character-based comedy.
The unexpected assets are actually quite prevalent: although Hello, My Name Is Doris occasionally wrings a few chuckles out of our lead character’s insecurities and social awkwardness, the old gal is never ridiculed, nor is her golden years search for “forbidden” love ever mocked for easy or cruel giggles. In the hands of many filmmakers, a movie like this would quickly devolve into a series of jokes in which Doris is simply clueless or confused. While she is a bit awkward and lacking in social skills, Doris is also a rather sharp and resourceful woman.
Backed by a capable supporting cast that includes Max Greenfield, Natasha Lyonne, Stephen Root, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and a wonderfully on-point Tyne Daly as Doris’ straight-talking, no-bullshit confidante (and a few funny cameos from Peter Gallagher and Don Stark), Hello, My Name Is Doris looks (and often feels) like a good-natured but quietly insightful ensemble piece, but in truth it’s Sally Field’s show from stem to stern. Not only does Ms. Field seem to bring out the best in her wide array of co-stars, but clearly she’s still got the skills required to steal an entire movie through sheer force of good humor, good timing, and plain old natural sweetness.