Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 5, 2016)
As a Woman of a Certain Age, Sally Field stopped getting lead roles a good decade ago. Though Field still appears in major films like Lincoln and Amazing Spider-Man, she now finds herself in supporting parts.
Field gets to enjoy her first lead in years via 2016’s Hello, My Name Is Doris. After her elderly mother passes, 60-something Doris Miller (Field) finds herself adrift. Never married, she fits the stereotype of the “crazy cat lady” who lacks social skills.
Doris’ life starts to change during a chance encounter with John Fremont (Max Greenfield), a new employee at the firm where she works. Though John is decades younger, Doris immediately becomes smitten with her handsome, charming co-worker.
Matters seem unlikely to go anywhere until Doris’ friend Roz (Tyne Daly) takes her to hear motivational speaker Willy Williams (Peter Gallagher). Doris takes his message to heart and decides to become a more active participant in her life – and that involves an attempt to charm John.
When I saw trailers for Name, I rolled my eyes. Based on those ads, it seemed to provide a cloying, artificially “life-affirming” experience that I figured would annoy me to no end.
So why did the Blu-ray wind up in my player? Because Name received fairly good reviews, so I thought it might offer something more engaging than the cheesy “inspirational” fare I feared.
And it did – to a degree. When I learned that Michael Showalter co-wrote and directed Name, I felt more optimistic, -as he comes from the comedy genre. Granted, I didn’t like movies like Wet Hot American Summer, but at least his background seemed likely to subvert Name’s mushy and sentimental tendencies.
Showalter manages to undercut some of the movie’s gooey elements, but he seems unsure what direction he prefers to follow. At times, Showalter leans toward parody, but on other occasions, he opts for a more standard drama.
This makes Name something between an earnest inspirational tale and a spoof. For instance, the film’s dichotomy appears prominently when Doris and Roz attend Williams’ seminar. On one hand, the film paints Williams as a glib, superficial snake oil peddler more concerned with the movement of merchandise than with the help of clients, but on the other, we see how Williams’ techniques and advice aid Doris.
The same form of split personality affects much of Name. Should we laugh at Doris or love her? Do we buy into her quest or poke fun at it? In the end, the movie leans toward the sincere side of the street, but it remains unsure of its focus much of the time.
While I’d prefer the story to take on a tighter tone, I do appreciate its mild attempts at satire. As noted earlier, I went into Name with the expectation that it’d offer the sappiest of tales, so I greet its attempts at humor with appreciation.
Even if a lot of those gags whack at low-hanging fruit. Many of Name’s gags poke fun at pretentious Brooklyn hipsters, and as predictable as this trend may be, it does offer amusement.
I just wish Name attempted a broader stab at parody than it does. While the movie flirts with mockery at times, it follows the sentimental path too much of the time.
Still, the movie’s slightly irreverent tone gives it a smidgen of edge and makes it more enjoyable than I expected. That may sound like faint praise – because it is – but Name still comes with moderate entertainment.