Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Help, I've Fallen In Love And I Can't Get Up!

Year: 2016
Director: Michael Showalter
Cast: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Tyne Daly 
Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I’m pretty familiar with the work of Michael Showalter in the context of his partnership with David Wain, which produced the cult classic, all-over-the-place, summer camp comedy Wet Hot American Summer, the grotesquely underrated rom-com parody They Came Together, and the dull, overstuffed Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. While I mostly adore their work, it has always been plagued by unsightly flaws and a certain lack of focus. So I was intrigued by Hello, My Name is Doris, which was directed and co-written by Showalter without Wain’s influence. When he’s separated from the herd, what comic qualities does Showalter possess?

Well, the focus seems to be his at the very least.

In Hello, My Name is Doris, Doris (Sally Field) is a quirky older woman working at an anonymous cubicle job. After her mother passes away, she is forced to face her hoarding habits by her brother and his money-grubbing wife, who wants to sell the house Doris and her mother lived in. Things start to look up hen she meets the new guy at work: John (Max Greenfield), a pretty young thang who she fantasizes about constantly.

After some light Internet fraud and Facebook stalking with the help of her BFF Roz’s (Tyne Daly) granddaughter Vivian (Isabella Acres), she befriends John and hits it off with his hipster friends, who dig her weird outfits and quirky worldview. These experiences give her a new lease on life, but is she a fool for pursuing John, or is there something there?

Will he see the heart of gold beneath the visor?

The thing about Hello, My Name is Doris is that it’s a dismayingly generic paint-by-numbers romantic comedy. As much as I adore the fact that this is a movie that admits that people over 60 have romantic struggles, human emotions, and – most importantly – sex drives, the alternative protagonist here doesn’t prevent the movie from plugging her into a been-there done-that formula. Apparently David Wain is the out-there goofball of the team, because the film is as steadfastly mundane as it’s possible to be.

I swear, this film hits so many romantic comedy tropes, you could black out a chick flick cliché bingo card in 20 minutes flat. We get the sassy best friend who exists to cause a brief pit stop of drama at the end of the second act, the precocious teen helper monkey, a Manic Pixie Dream Guy who unwittingly helps the lead work out her personal issues with romance and her lifestyle… Doris is not a comedy pioneer, just a sad woman in a situation we’ve seen a billion times, even if the film fudges the specifics to be a little more kooky.

The reason this boring plot works on any level is unequivocally Sally Field. Not only does she bring her substantial acting chops to the film’s handful of dramatic scenes (which would be unjustified and melodramatic if she weren’t there to ground them in something authentic and human), she’s clearly having a good time in the role. Her obvious enthusiasm for this stereotypical part that she’ll probably never be given another opportunity to play makes Hello, My Name is Doris a sparkling soap bubble, a fun romp down a well-trod path.

And, truth be told, I probably own this outfit.

Probably, the part of Hello, My Name is Doris that brings the most to the table (other than Sally Field) is its skewering of hipster culture. Perfectly personified by fun. and bleachers’ Jack Antonoff (who’s dating Lena Dunham, which might be the most hipster thing you can do) as the ingeniously pretentious electro musician Baby Goya, the hyper-trendy modern subculture is depicted as a terrifying horde of über-progressive fashionaistas who speak like they just stepped out of a Lewis Carroll poem. The film doesn’t find too much to say about the group, but it utilizes some of their arch ridiculousness to provide a modern edge to the comedy that blends well with Doris’ search for something new, vibrant, and maybe a little bit scary.

And then there’s Natasha Lyonne, Kumail Nanjiani, and Rich Sommer as Doris’ self-involved, venal Greek chorus of coworkers, who combine their comic talents into a whirling vortex of yuppie nonsense. They’re not in the movie nearly as frequently as they should be, but they help ump the comedy along when the plot flags, which happens altogether too frequently.

You see, despite a solid cast and some decently funny observational humor, Hello, My Name is Doris can barely justify its existence. The thin plot gets exhausted by the hour mark, and though the film leaves a good impression by closing on a dynamic high note, there are large portions that are – quite frankly – deeply uninteresting. So far, I’m not on Team Showalter on this one, though I dig the work his casting director is doing.

TL;DR: Hello, My Name is Doris is a sweet, well-acted, but deeply unoriginal romance.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 849

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