Jane Fonda once said that ‘Ageism is alive and well.’ Speaking honestly, I’d say she was right. James Bond’s girlfriends are getting consecutively younger, and the casting of Marisa Tomei as Spiderman’s Aunt May in Captain America: Civil War led to Tony Stark having a brief discussion with Peter Parker about his ‘hot aunt’. Women have been forced to play younger and younger – or, simply, to be younger and younger.
There has, however, been a recent backlash to this. Fonda herself now stars in Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, a show about the friendship between two older women, and her co-star, Lily Tomlin, recently fronted Grandma, a film that was lauded for its humour and heart, and for Tomlin’s performance as the matriarch in question. Inside Amy Schumer last year received viral commendation for its star-studded sketch entitled ‘Last F***able Day’, in which a group of middle-aged actresses celebrate the loss of their sex appeal. And now, we are given Hello, My Name is Doris, in which Sally Field plays a sixty-something who decides to woo her younger co-worker.
The film itself is refreshing for the way in which it fuses Doris’ humorous attempts to blend into hip Brooklynite life with her struggles as an older woman, dealing with the loss of her mother. She attends an electro-pop concert and does an album cover photoshoot, but she also has a therapist who tries to work through her issues as a hoarder of all her late mother’s junk. Doris is never the desperate woman who tries to fit into short-shorts in order to get her way; in fact, she drops into young adult life with relative ease. Though some of her twenty-something friends’ motives never move beyond having a token old friend, Doris herself is never the object of any of the film’s jokes. She, as an older woman, is given the opportunity to embrace a younger outlook without judgement, whilst still maintaining friendships with people her own age. It’s an interesting and invigorating duality that the film poses, and Hello’s biggest success is the way in which neither part of Doris’ life is neglected or played for comedic expense. Funny moments come out of interactions between people and circumstances, not from the situation itself.
Sally Field gives a brilliant performance as Doris – though her quirkiness sometimes verges a little towards Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer, she manages to rein it back. Her finest work, however, comes in the film’s more emotional moments. One scene in particular, in which she finally confronts her obnoxious absentee brother, is heart-wrenching, and gives her desire for a new approach to life a whole new justification. Doris doesn’t just want a tryst with a younger man – her attempts are also an exorcism of sorts, a desire to move past the void her mother leaves her with, and it’s this that lifts Field’s performance beyond the indie eccentric.
She’s also backed up by some great co-stars – Max Greenfield of New Girl fame brings warmth and charm to John, the object of Doris’ affections, and Tyne Daly all but steals the show as her best friend, Roz, who is as equally stuck in a rut as Doris herself. They’re all a wonderful backdrop to Doris’ life, but they allow Field sufficient room to explore the complexities of her character.
Hello, My Name is Doris won the SXSW Film Festival’s Audience Award last year, proving that, if anything, films about – not just featuring, but about – older women have the capability to be successful. Though Hello might have a formulaic plot in places, it’s the exploration of the complexities of aging and Sally Field’s wonderful performance that give it the power it has. Jane Fonda went on to argue that the older population ‘have no face in the mass media.’ Though Hello, My Name is Doris doesn’t solve the ageism of Hollywood, it begins to fight back by proving that charming, funny, and touching films aren’t just limited to people under fifty.
Dir: Michael Showalter
Scr: Michael Showalter, Laura Terruso
Cast: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Tyne Daly, Beth Behrs, Natasha Lyonne
Prod: Daniel Crown, Kevin Mann, Riva Marker, Jordana Mollick, Daniela Taplin Lundberg
DOP: Brian Burgoyne
Runtime: 95 mins
Hello, My Name is Doris is released on Blu-Ray and DVD in the US on June 14th