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Movie review: ‘Hello, My Name is Doris’ expertly handles some heavy issues

Katie Walsh Tribune News Service

Meet Doris. With her glittery cat-eye glasses, wacky vintage wardrobe, and messy mop of a fake ponytail, Doris (Sally Field) cuts the type of figure that’s usually written off as an eccentric supporting character. But, radically, “Hello, My Name is Doris” makes this character the focal point of its story, delving into her inner life, desires and secrets. The indie dramedy directed by Michael Showalter, co-written by Showalter and Laura Terruso, peels back the layers of quirk to expose the vulnerable underbelly in this empowering tale of self-actualization at any age.

The plot finds Doris, mourning the death of her mother, with whom she lived, and hoarded, reeling from a newfound crush. The object of her affection is John (Max Greenfield), the new art director at the hip ad agency where she works. Doris most decidedly does not fit in with the uber-cool youngsters at the agency, but it takes an outsider like John to see that Doris is the original hipster in her un-ironic granny glasses and 1950s threads.

Armed with woo-isms from a self-help seminar led by Peter Gallagher (“I’m possible” becomes her mantra), she strikes up a friendship and flirtation with John. Doris is soon braving the wilds of the Internet, catfishing John on Facebook and showing up at the concerts of his favorite bands – Jack Atonoff as electro-pop artist Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winters. With her oddball charms, Doris is soon the coolest girl in Williamsburg.

So yes, Doris begins her personal growth for a guy. But that external motivation is just what she needs to step tentatively outside of her comfort zone. And John, while an oft distracted millennial type, is unfailingly kind to her, which is not something that Doris gets from her brother (Stephen Root), sister-in-law (Wendi McLendon-Covey) or even her battle ax of a best friend Roz (a great Tyne Daly).

At times, “Hello, My Name is Doris” can feel too real, too raw. That’s due to Showalter and Terruso’s script, which doesn’t shy away from any harsh truths. Doris is suffering from immense, trauma, grief and serious mental and emotional issues with her hoarding, which is explored through treatment with a therapist (Elizabeth Reaser). It’s a cute exterior on some very dark issues, so there are certain jokes that are just too difficult to laugh at. It’s also clear that the romance with John can’t work out – though her fantasy sequences let us indulge in the “what if.”

The exposed-nerve intensity is also due to Field’s bravura performance. She’s at once as perkily giddy as Gidget and as fierce as Norma Rae. But there’s also a deep sense of tragedy and heartbreak at her missed opportunities, and Field makes every flicker of emotion so real. Greenfield makes a fine counterpart as sensitive John, and demonstrates his very real leading man chops.

Not every joke lands perfectly. The jabs at Brooklyn hipsters and their artisanal, LGBT thingamabobs are old hat, and rely often on Doris as a fish-out-of-water. But the film firmly has its heart in the right place. “Doris” demonstrates the power of decency, kindness, owning up to things, and confronting your own issues. It also shows the importance of simply being a very good friend. We could all learn a little something from Doris.

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