Sally Field has always had a rare presence on screen: a gift for being both lovable and utterly vulnerable. In “Hello, My Name Is Doris,” a not-very-interesting movie that’s elevated by Field’s performance, the title character could easily have fallen into caricature: an older woman who dresses in quirky retro clothing, lives in a Staten Island house cluttered with a lifetime’s collected possessions and develops a sadly unrequited passion for a man at work who’s half her age.
You know, watching the film, that Doris will be humiliated before things begin to look brighter; that she will feud with and make up with her best friend (Tyne Daly); that there will be the usual jokes about older people and technology; and that, in general, the characters will behave like scripted people rather than real ones. (Every line spoken by Wendy McLendon-Covey’s nasty sister-in-law character, for example, feels like a rough draft.)
And yet, “Hello, My Name Is Doris” is at times quite moving, because of the way Field and the character merge. Doris, who’s taken care of her sick mother for many years (the film begins with the mother’s funeral), has a not-quite-verbalized sense that life has passed her by. You see it in the way she gazes, open-mouthed, at her workplace crush (Max Greenfield) – you want to close the mouth for her, as it makes her so achingly defenseless – or in how she clings to the clutter in her house, as if it might somehow bring back happier days.
Field, carrying the movie on her shoulders and handing it to us for our approval, makes us root for wistful Doris. Single-handedly, she makes the movie work. I didn’t always believe Doris’ behavior, but I knew I wanted to see her smile again.