Hello, My Name is Doris
Aging, romance, and fantasy
Doris Miller (Sally Field), on the heels of her mother’s death, meets John Fremont (Max Greenfield) on a crowded elevator on his first day of work. After stealing a pencil from his briefcase, she begins to fantasize that he felt the same sparks of romance that she did as she gazed into his eyes.
The film attempts to turn the normal Hollywood script on its head—where it has become normal for an older man to seduce or fall for a much younger woman.
Doris, we learn, chose to take care of her mother rather than pursuing love. Now she wants to reclaim those lost years. Is it too late? Can she possibly make up for all of those years? Every day she gets up, rides the ferry to work, sits in her cubicle entering data all day, and then goes home. She does have some good friends and a cat, but she is clearly also lonely.
With the help of her friend Roz’s 13-year-old tech and socially savvy granddaughter, Doris uses the Internet to follow John and discover his personal life. She begins to show up at his favorite band concerts and with her absolutely quirky fashion sense, offbeat conversations, and ability to listen, joins his circle of friends. Field carefully manages these scenes so we see her coming out of her shell, while still maintaining her lack of full understanding of what is happening around her. She misses some social cues, and we are left to wonder occasionally if people like having her around because she is that innocent eccentric lady who says the craziest things? But she seems to be enjoying the freedom she is discovering.
Her brother hires a counselor to help her de-clutter the mess of her house. Every inch of space is full: odd things she finds along the street, things she was given that have sentimental value, or things she hoards that she might need someday. The tension here gives us yet another reason to be sympathetic to Doris, since we suspect her brother just wants to sell the house for the money he will inherit. By the end this seems like just another overplayed ploy to get us cheering for Doris. The slick self-help guru inspires her with the transformation of “Impossible” to “I’m possible,” which she repeats like a mantra. We laugh out loud when she acts just like the 13 year old, when she thinks John is returning her attention.
Sally Field does an amazing job of moving from eccentric, to being crazy in love, all the while showing vulnerability mixed with naiveté. The film attempts to turn the normal Hollywood script on its head—where it has become normal for an older man to seduce or fall for a much younger woman. This has been so normalized that we often don’t even notice.
It was interesting to pay attention to my own response to this older woman fantasizing about the younger man. Have I accepted one narrative pattern, while rejecting the other? There remain major differences between this narrative and those with the older male protagonists. Older men, in most romance stories, are usually portrayed as successful, protective, sexually attractive, and virile men who aren’t caught in fantasy, but naturally attract the younger woman. They have power, position, and are often wealthy.
On the positive side, this movie does offer the idea that women over sixty are interested in sex, can be attracted to a younger male, and can have sexual fantasies. They must however, resort to being wacky, stalking, and acting like a much younger person to get what they want. Ultimately, they might just appear delusional. What we notice is that the woman has to become like a teenager to attract the younger man, while the older man attracts with his wisdom and maturity. While I did find the movie humorous and Field does an exceptional job filling the screen, the post film reflections left me uncomfortable with what our narrative imagination really is prepared to accept.
Rated R for language.
All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.