CRUMBLIES… 3 crumblies

Now, here’s a new genre in the grey-scale of movies: older woman goes for younger man. The basics of this film had gotten round the corridors and old Jack found himself shoved to the sides of the TV room as Grubby Gert, Mad Maud, Tipsy Tina, Lusty Linda and Unspeakably Crass Ursula got on with the business of lusting after young Max Greenfield (as John) playing the target of the unrequited affections, including fantasy sequences, of Sally Field: Hello, My Name is Doris.

And you know what? Most of my sympathies were with Doris. Unfortunately, in exactly the same way my sympathies were with Worzel Gummidge in his unrelenting, slightly creepy pursuit of Aunt Sally. For Doris is in her sixties, having spent a lifetime looking after parents whilst her sibling got on with living, and has ended up as that nightmare for a scarecrow: odd. She wears her Scatty Head most of the time, choosing clothes and mannerisms that charm and irritate whilst telegraphing weirdness at Character Actor Factor 5. As you’d expect, Sally Field is terrific and goes a long way to humanising Doris, but, hmmmmm, we’re in romcom unreality here. Well, fortuitously nearly-flirty romcom territory: there’s a blowing-up-a-bouncy-chair scene that had Grubby Gert taking an alone-time break.

So. Doris loses the remaining parent then goes to a Lifestyle Coaching talk where Peter Gallagher takes talking bollocks to a new level. His Willy Williams is dripping with smarm, getting small crowds of greying women to shut their eyes and intone “I’m Possible” in the stead of “impossible”. You can sense the writers thinking that one might sell for real…there were nods of approval in our TV room. I didn’t dare sigh in case their gimlet eyes swiveled my way…

And what does Doris do with this incantation? She turns towards the beautiful new art director at work: John. They meet in a crowded lift where he rearranges her glasses because she can no longer reach her nose. And that’d do it for me too, goodly reader. John is up-close, beautiful, smiley and features in Doris’s daydreams for the next hour. Full-on romcom-stalker behaviour begins as she tries to flirt (fails), looks for friend advice (is told to stop being a div, quite a lot, by the terrific Tyne Daly as Roz), and makes a break-through by following Daly’s kid’s social media advice… And then becomes John’s sort-of friend: finding a fake shared interest in a band, bonding over work strains and marching towards the inevitable, ghastly, toe-snappingly embarrassing scene you know…from the start…is a-coming…

Now, look, Fields is hearteningly vulnerable throughout. She balances the quirky with the sympathetic – helped in no small part by Daly’s gloriously caustic commentary. That this particular plot is usually told the other way round, and the man’s fantasy usually comes true, adds to the cruelty of what happens here. That said, you never quite lose sight of Doris as damaged (the parent thing, the obsession thing, the hoarding. Yup, there’s hoarding…), so that scene that’s a-coming is always going to make you flinch.

Enough of the plot. Do things work out? Does John do the right thing and pounce on the stylish old lady? Or does Doris end up being hugged through the pain by her oldest, sharpest friend? Perhaps Worzel would have ended up with Aunt Sally if he’d only begged a little harder…keep your hopes on an even keel for what happens after the scene you know is a-coming a-comes.

Old Jack – though he didn’t dare say it in the room – felt Hello, My Name is Doris could have been more than the sum of its ‘fresh angle’ mentality had it let Doris be in some way real. She is hard to sympathise with – for all the sterling work Field puts in – because the inevitable is always on its way. The character work is great, especially from Daly and Field. Greenfield is more constrained: he is asked to be a blank fantasy, then, well, awkwardly nice. This is entertaining enough, but the film becomes about an odd character in odd circumstances and loses the potential of its old-young (ooh, woman-man) contrast.