On paper, Hello, My Name Is Doris reads like a screwball comedy: directed and co-written by Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer, The State), it’s about a hoarding spinster who works at a hip clothing company called Northeastern Apparel (get it?) and gets embraced by Williamsburg hipsters in much the same way the hero of David Cross’s new movie, Hits, does.
But it turns out this isn’t an easy-pickings social satire of hipsterdom, nor is it a genre parody along the lines of They Came Together, the brilliant faux rom-com that Showalter wrote with his Stella colleague David Wain. Instead it’s a pitch-perfect dramedy in which a somewhat sad and awkward, 60-year-old data-entry worker (masterfully played by Sally Field) falls for a sweet young man (Max Greenfield of Ugly Betty, New Girl, etc.) who just started working at her office. With the help of her friend’s 13-year-old daughter, Doris starts a fake Facebook page to stalk John and gets into his favorite electro act Baby Goya (played by Lena Dunham’s boyfriend, Jack Antonoff of Bleachers).
During the film’s SXSW premiere at the Paramount Theatre in Austin this weekend, Field told a packed house that the script, based on a short film (below) by NYU film student turned co-writer Laura Terruso, stood out from the ones she’s used to reading: “There’s nothing that sort of blows your skirts up, as I always say. And this blew my skirts way up.”
The metaphor was appropriate: Field said she “found the character through the clothes,” a patchwork of vintage items that she said itched like hell during the “grueling” low-budget, down-and-dirty shoot. (She was so attached to her wardrobe that she named one of her hairpieces Beverly.) The biggest laugh of the film comes when Doris’s 13-year-old mentor tells her to wear something neon to the Baby Goya show at Rough Trade (after all, Baby Goya’s act combines robots and the Renaissance). She totally overdoes it, wearing a blinding jumpsuit and visor, to the delight of everyone there. Baby Goya even summons her into his dressing room and asks her to be on the cover of his new album.
At first, Field resisted wearing the outfit: “There was one outfit that we kept arguing about and Showalter kept saying, ‘Trust me, trust me – this’ll be a big laugh.’ And I kept saying, ‘But how do you know we want a big laugh here?’”
It did get a big laugh (Field admitted she was wrong) and it makes Doris a hit with John and his Williamsburg friends. She meets a guy who dresses monochromatically according to the season, a guy who makes handcut chocolate bars with haikus in the wrappers, and a girl who teaches “at a gay pre-school in Park Slope. All my kids identify as either lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It’s really changed my life.”
And it seems Doris might just change theirs, as well. The fact that she lives in Staten Island is “so first-wave” to them. They might just hop in a bus and move there together.
Among Doris’s co-workers is a character played by the East Village’s own Natasha Lyonne, who plays up her bad-girl reputation to amusing effect. During a game of Never Have I Ever, Doris confesses that (gasp) she’s intentionally worn her underwear to work inside-out, and Lyonne drinks to that.
A character named Brookyln plays a key role. We won’t spoil anything about her except to explain her name: “I’m from Colorado,” she tells Doris. “My parents just named me that because they love Woody Allen.”
But again, the film is more than just an easy laugh about an old lady getting adopted by retro-loving millenials. At its heart is Doris’s relationship with her brother (played by Stephen Root, aka Milton in Office Space), who tries to cure her hoarding with tough love. And then there’s her strained relationship with her best friend (Tyne Daly) who at one point tells her that her new friends may not be as sincere as they seem: “You’re just a weird little old lady in funny clothes – you’re like their weird fucking art project.”
After the premiere, Showalter said he couldn’t be happier about the casting of Doris: “Sally Field is everything that Doris needs to be. Sally is funny, she’s fierce, she’s vulnerable, she’s sexy.”
And the audience seemed to agree. During the q&a, an official SXSW photographer took the mic just to tell her he’d do her. First of all, somebody fire that guy. But second of all, I think I know what he’s getting at. Doris is an infectiously loveable character and we find ourselves rooting for her even as we know there’s probably no way she and John will ever go on that dining-in-the-dark date.