In less talented hands, the May-December comedy “Hello, My Name Is Doris” would have ended up either a maudlin dark comedy or an over-the-top love story. But the combination of Sally Field’s acting skills and her natural charm elevates this production to a sweet, quirky and endearing tale.
Field’s work makes it a lovely story about how life can start at any age.
Doris Miller (Field) is a dinosaur both emotionally and professionally. The sixtysomething woman put her life on hold to take care of her ailing mother, but that changes when her mother dies and Doris discovers new freedoms.
This liberty chiefly manifests itself in the form of a crush on John (Max Greenfield), the new hire at the hip New York firm where Doris works in the accounting department. Doris should have been downsized out years ago, but she remains with the company because of a deal made when new owners took over the firm.
The friendliness John (Max Greenfield) shows to the woman who is old enough to be his mother is seen as an invitation by Doris (Sally Field) to pursue John romantically.
John finds Doris “weird in a nice way.” The friendliness he shows to the woman who is old enough to be his mother is seen as an invitation by Doris to pursue John romantically. This course is inadvertently encouraged by John as he invites Doris into his circle of friends.
Greenfield, who can be a little manic on “New Girl,” turns in a strong and controlled performance. He plays John as being friendly enough that he would encourage people to come into his life. But Greenfield never takes the character so far as to make John seem like a tease. This means that no matter the outcome, all parties are going to end up being likable.
The efforts by Doris to woo the young man could have come across as sad and pathetic. That doesn’t happen because there is a real tenderness to the way Field plays the role. It’s like watching a 13-year-old girl proclaim her love for a favorite teacher. This creates a real sympathy for the character.
Part of the caring for the character comes from watching Doris deal with the psychological trauma of facing life after her mother’s death. Despite the urging of family members to sell the family house, Doris desperately holds on to the world she had before the passing that manifests itself in hoarding.
There are voices of reason trying to help Doris. Her longtime friend, Roz (Tyne Daly), chastises Doris for not acting her age and suggests she’s only been accepted in the young circle of friends because she’s a quirky old lady. But Roz has her own emotional baggage: She finds it impossible to move on from her husband’s death 15 years ago.
Even when Sally Field takes her character to an extreme, she never comes across as pitiful or sad.
Elizabeth Reaser is a psychiatrist brought in to help Doris deal with her hoarding issues. This relationship never gets advanced enough to offer deep insights.
There’s more revealed when Doris turns to Roz’s 13-year-old granddaughter for online help in pursuing John. It’s a glimpse in what life might have been like for Doris when she was younger had it not been for family issues.
All of this works because of Field. Even when she takes the character to an extreme – such as a night watching a concert by John’s favorite electronic music band – she never comes across as pitiful or sad. That comes from the energy and joy Field brings to the role.
She makes Doris come across as very real, the kind of person who’s weird in a nice way and who would make a great part of any circle.
“Hello, My Name Is Doris” is aimed at an older audience, but Field’s performance has so much youthful energy that it ends up being a broader story of the first buds of love that, like Doris, would be acceptable and entertaining with any crowd.