“Hello, My Name Is Doris” is a rarity: a genuinely funny, sincere and believable film for adults, centered on an older woman. It’s the most purely enjoyable of a number of recent films focusing on women in their 60s navigating love and family issues — more entertaining than Blythe Danner’s “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” less predictable than Lily Tomlin’s “Grandma.”
And it offers star Sally Field her finest comedic role since (believe it or not) the underrated 1991 film “Soapdish.” Field gives an award-worthy performance as a character that could have been a one-note embarrassment.
It’s a real winner, certainly one of the sweetest adult releases this year. While it never quite breaks the mold or truly surprises, “Doris” succeeds as a character study with real heart and warmth.
Michael Showalter’s film begins just after the death of the title character’s mother. Doris (Field) has lived in the home she grew up in with her mother her entire life. The home is mess of accumulated bric-a-brac. Doris is accused of being a hoarder, and it’s difficult to argue with the designation.
A telling moment occurs early in the film, as Doris makes her way to work. Spotting a grungy lamp on the street, she seems struck with inspiration. She happily picks it up and lugs it to her office job.
On this day, she’s lodged in a crowded elevator with a handsome young man who compliments her offbeat glasses. He is John (“New Girl” star Max Greenfield), a newly hired co-worker, and he is utterly charming. Doris — an almost invisible figure in the office to most — is instantly smitten.
Smitten might be putting it mildly. Perhaps lust is more accurate. And why wouldn’t she be? John treats her with kindness and respect, unlike so many others. When he calls Doris “a true original,” it is not said with mockery or disdain.
With some confidence from a self-help seminar and a friend’s teenage daughter, Doris learns the art of Facebook stalking, buys the CD of John’s favorite band, and attempts to win over this much younger man.
She is successful to some degree, but things soon take a sad turn, although not an unexpected one. The film’s second half is a bit more somber, yet Field, Greenfield and an ace supporting cast (Tyne Daly, Peter Gallagher, Stephen Root) ensure even the darker moments are not overwhelmingly sad.
Occasionally the jokes are too easy. (Older woman at a rave! Older woman doesn’t understand social media! Older woman doesn’t know what “digits” means!) But “Doris” has some substantial thoughts on aging and romance, and unexpectedly becomes a paean to the joys of real friendship.
Above all else, it’s funny. Especially droll is Daly, as Doris’s longtime best friend, Roz. Some of her lines are truly memorable — yelling “FASCIST!” at a jogger who angrily passes her and Doris, or confronting Doris after she declines a Thanksgiving invitation with, “I can’t believe you’re doing this. I have two kinds of stuffing.”
One of the most memorable moments is a brutally honest argument involving Doris’s inclusion in John’s circle of young friends — Roz says they see Doris as “the weird little old lady in the funny clothes,” Doris tells Roz that it’s time she moved on from her late husband. This exchange is the film’s best:
Roz: “You’re telling me to move on? You have packets of duck sauce in your refrigerator from the 1970s.” Doris: “IT KEEPS.”
Director Showalter is something of a comic genius. A cast member of cult-classic sketch comedy “The State,” he is best known as an actor. But “Doris,” his second directorial effort, demonstrates that the “Wet Hot American Summer” star is the real deal.
For Field, “Doris” may just herald a career rebirth. She has had some successes over the past few decades — an Oscar nominated turn in “Lincoln,” a leading role on TV’s “Brothers and Sisters” — but it’s been some time since she had a plum role like this. Her Doris is a true original indeed.
What: “Hello, My Name Is Doris”
Starring: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Tyne Daly, Stephen Root, Peter Gallagher
Director: Michael Showalter
Running time: 95 minutes
Rated: R for language
The lowdown: A self-help seminar inspires a sixty-something woman to romantically pursue her younger coworker.