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03/18/2016

Field plows into frumpy, fantasizing 'Doris'

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Sally Field as the title character in "Hello, My Name Is Doris." Seacia Para/Roadside Attractions

Generally speaking, when an extraordinarily gifted actress like Sally Field, a two-time Academy Award winner (Norma Rae, Places in the Heart), is out front, a film is strong enough to warrant a trip to the neighborhood movie house.

That’s almost the case with "Hello, My Name Is Doris," but not quite.

Field, nominated for a third Oscar as Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln in 2012, pours her acting soul into Doris. She’s a 60-something New Yorker from Staten Island who has just lost her mother and now must fend for herself at work, with her friends and, perhaps most importantly, when she’s alone.

Not unlike Doris, however, there’s just too much baggage in this layered comic-drama for even a gifted pro like Field to carry herself. Doris is not just conflicted, as any lonely woman in her 60s might be after losing her closest human contact (her mother).

In many ways, Doris is still a teenager in her mind, even though she’s nearing retirement age at the office where she keeps accounts in a cubicle that can barely contain her volatile angst. Let’s just say her path to happiness and mental stability is as cluttered as her home, where she throws a fit when relatives and a psychologist try to get her to part with a hoarded single snow ski she has no use for.

There’s enough going on in Hello, My Name Is Doris to suggest that Field would have a Field day (if you’ll pardon the pun) rumbling through the mental mess that is her title character. Unfortunately, this tale of an aging wallflower desperate to blossom into a relationship with the handsome young new art director named Max (John Fremont) careens off into something that’s a little bit Walter Mitty (an uncontrollable fantasizer) and a lot made-for-TV movie material.

Director Michael Showalter, who also co-wrote the script, is working with material first explored in an eight-minute NYU student film. Expanded to 90 minutes, however, Hello, My Name Is Doris runs out of creative gas, much like so many of those funny Saturday Night Live skits that died on the feature-film vine.

Field is fine, more than fine, in fact. She jumps into the lovable frump bag that is Doris body and soul. There are no complaints from this aisle seat about Fremont, currently starring on the small screen as Schmidt opposite Zooey Deschanel on the Fox sitcom New Girl. And it’s fun to see Tyne Daly as Roz, a steadfast best friend to Doris.

Unfortunately, Hello, My Name Is Doris is not constantly compelling enough to live on eccentricity alone on the big screen. It might play well on TV in prime time, but somewhere down the list of cable channels that attend more to matters of the heart than matters of essential cinema.

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MPAA rating: R (profanity)
90 minutes
Jalapeño rating: 2½ (out of 4)

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