Okay, it’s taken me almost a week and I still haven’t been able to decide: do I want to call Sally Field “radiant,” or is “luminous” the right word? I swear, that’s a big part of the reason it’s taken me five days to publish my review. (It also doesn’t help that I’ve been as lazy as my crazed-grad-school lifestyle will allow…) And here I am, I still haven’t decided. Suffice it to say, Ms. Field is all that and more. Anyway, so when SF Sketchfest announced this year’s schedule, I immediately zeroed in on this chance to attend the tribute to Sally Field and screening of her quirky new comedy, Hello, My Name is Doris last Friday night at the amazing Alamo Drafthouse. (Bonus: the Q&A after the film also featured the film’s director/co-writer, Michael Showalter!)
Before I get into a little more detail, I have to say what a treat this theater is. I’ve been to a few places where you can take your drink into a movie with you, or even where you can order a slice or something and take it to your seat, but the Alamo Drafthouse is sort of revolutionary in its ability to blend movie and restaurant so seamlessly: I love that I can essentially order whatever I want (silently, without disrupting fellow movie-goers) and have it brought to me. And I’m not just talking hot dogs and popcorn! The food is overpriced, but the beer selection alone is reason to go back. Comfy seats and lots of options will have me commuting from Napa again and again – and no one paid me to say so.
Okay, on to the good stuff. Hello, My Name is Doris is one of the cutest movies I’ve seen in a long time, but I have to be clear: when someone calls a movie “cute” it doesn’t have me beating down doors at my nearest theater. For Doris, you should. I say cute because it’s the most commonly-associated word with films of this quirky, comedic nature. I don’t know that I can remember ever seeing a similar film in which the protagonist experiences a “coming of age” (or at least coming into her own) in her 60s, and let’s be honest: Field is just so fucking cute herself that it’s hard not to use the word when you see this little gem of a film. If this helps, I’ll add that I can’t wait for it to be released on other screens so I can see it again, and I’m absolutely planning to own my own copy on DVD/Blu-Ray. (Again, no one paid me to say this. I just adored this movie.)
Field plays the title character, a lovely, bored, sad older lady with a little family established for herself with her best friend. She recently lost her mother, whose home she lives in (and has turned into a hoarder’s paradise); her brother and his wife judge her for multiple reasons and would like her to sell the house. Enter John (the wonderful Max Greenfield): the new guy at work. He’s thirtysomething, handsome, and she instantly feels drawn to him in a way that she can’t explain. It’s immediate excitement, and the fantasies in her head are shown on-screen, leading to more than one “is this actually happening?” moment. Field is utterly brilliant in the most mortifying of her Doris moments, and the evolution of the character is palpable as she adjusts her personality (likely both consciously and not-so-consciously, over the course of the film) accordingly. For example, with the help of her best friend’s live-in granddaughter, she creates a fake Facebook profile in order to “friend” John and discover more about him. She discovers his favorite band, whose album she buys. When granddaughter Vivian (Isabella Acres) urges her to see them live (in hopes of running into her crush, of course), Doris really begins to blossom. Yes, she dresses as she’s told, but when she’s recognized for her quirky, silly eccentricities, they gradually begin to become a genuine part of who she is, as is evidenced in the changes in her wardrobe, hair, and makeup over the course of rest of the story.
Ultimately, I don’t want to spoil the end of the film for you. Also, I couldn’t really if I tried. I don’t want to tell you what all happens, how it goes, or how it ends, because I genuinely want you to see this one! Suffice to say, though, that not only is Field fantastically adorable, charming, and relatable (even if I’m closer to John’s age than hers, it still works, somehow), but Greenfield is at his best in this one, too. Honestly, I know him as the sort of douchey Schmidt from New Girl, and Doris shows much more depth from him. His turn as John allows him to display compassion, humor, and frustration in ways I’ve not yet seen him do. Other bright spots in the cast include Natasha Lyonne, Beth Behrs, Elizabeth Reaser, Peter Gallagher, and the magnificent Tyne Daly as Doris’ bestie, Roz. I honestly can’t say enough good things about this one, guys: just trust me. Go.
At the conclusion of the film, we were treated to a great Q&A with Ms. Field herself, joined by director/co-writer Michael Showalter. The two are quite a dynamic duo, and began the latter portion of this event with the realization that there was, in fact, “no weird person asking us questions?” Showalter first explained that Doris began as a short, and that it took a couple of years to expand it to feature-length. By the time he approached Field, Greenfield was already on board.
The next question was about what happens at the conclusion of the film. The most I can admit here is that it’s not completely clear, and is left open to interpretation. I’d like to go on and tell you more, because Field’s explanation was lovely, but if you want the spoiler, you should email me and I’ll fill you in. What I can tell you is that Field takes a little credit for the way the movie concludes, given that there were many scenarios tossed around before they went with the ending as you’ll see it. And I can tell you that when she said “life is a goddamned possibility,” I wanted to call her my hero. She’s fucking awesome.
The next question was about Doris’ physical transformation: the hair, the makeup, the jewelry, etc. Apparently, Field did some research of her own based on her collaboration with Showalter. Field’s gushing about the talent of costume designer Rebecca Gregg’s working with a mere $37 (which she said listeral, not an exaggeration), and how she went to old costume houses and thrift shops to find Doris’ wardrobe. Have you ever been to (or at least heard of) those shops in LA where you can find the clothes actors wore in movies? They have labels saying who wore them and in which TV show/movie? That’s where a lot of Doris was created on the cheap. The idea was, Field said, that Doris was “stuck in a fantasy,” and that her “clothes were her friends.” Her look, then, was “her way of whimsy, of living her own little novel.” (The latter refers to Doris’ love of a good romance novel, a fantasy within which she can live as though it’s her own life.) Field went on to describe coming up with Doris’ hairdo herself, a riff on a classic Brigitte Bardot look, a fluffy little ponytail or updo bun with a little hairpiece added, dressed up with a scarf. Field said that it was important for it to look as though Doris “could have done it herself,” and that Doris had to be Bardot in her own mind, which is how they added the cat glasses and cat eyeliner, which is specifically “made to look imperfect.”
When asked how making movies now differs to her experiences “back then” (meaning when she was much younger, when things in Hollywood were different), Field explained that she began her career in television back in 1965, moving on up to movies in 1975 or ’76. Ultimately, Field explained how much of her experience with Doris is like her first experiences in acting because it’s a low-key indie and much of it happens without much time to overthink or “be precious with yourself.” Doris was shot in three weeks in LA, with three more days in NYC a few weeks later for necessary subway shots and the like. Field said that there was something about it that felt “full circle” from where she began, which she loves. “It’s nice to be paid,” but bigger budget takes so long, she explained. “It takes a whole day to do half a page!” She enjoyed the immediacy and energy of having to throw herself into a project like Doris, she said, adding that it’s hard to keep up in a four or five month, big budget project.
Field was asked then how she personally related to Doris, and what she might tell her at the film’s end. She loved it immediately, she said, adding that it “spoke to me about how at any stage in your life, you always feel brand new. You don’t know how to do it, that never changes.” She elaborated about heading into her seventies, and how it’s “hard to be so old and feel so new,” which she said resonated with her: “also, no matter how old you are, nothing is the same. Your face, your body, everything is not the same,” but the person inside is still the same. She explained that because of this, she could connect with Doris and the idea that while, yes, John was 35 years younger, she could still be drawn to him anyway. “That’s what human beings are meant to do. Why should it matter about the age? Everyone is so longing to be connected.” Field then added that if Doris was a man and the woman was the one who was younger, it would have been an Audrey Hepburn film. “And what would I say to her? ‘Get in the elevator, babe. Get into your life.'”
Next came a question/interaction for Showalter from a fan who admitted she had a “lady chub” just by conversing with him. Showalter responded by likening the gushing from her to a cat having its belly rubbed. When Field chimed in, trying to pay Showalter a compliment, he made a face. “Oh, fuck you!”
“Sally makes my job easy because she’s so perfect,” Showalter declared. He added that she has comedic timing, rhythm, and the ability to craft something memorable. She understands where the camera is and how to give a great performance: “I learn a lot from her… fuck you!”
The next question was a two-parter, with the first about how the movie begins with sad tones, and asked whether or not a story Doris tells John could have been entirely delusional. “Doris is fanciful,” Field explained. “If it had been a fantasy, she would have been more fanciful. You know it’s real because she’s uncomfortable and she wants to get through it quickly. She’s full of emotion when telling it but doesn’t want pity; she shrugs it off so she doesn’t let her emotion go.” The latter question referred specifically to a line where Doris told her brother, “I could have had that too!” Field was asked, essentially, what she thought that line meant. “She could have. She could have somehow been allowed or empowered, gone to college, had a real career, had a life, a family, children…” Instead, Doris ends up where she is, “aided and abetted by” her mother and brother both, “but she does have things perhaps even that her brother doesn’t have,” such as a beautiful, familial relationship with her best friend Roz and Roz’s family. “She can’t heal unless that comes out,” Field explained about this line. “It’s her journey in trying to reach out, and to start to heal.”
Another question asked “how much was written, and how much evolved” during the course of making Doris. “She was on the page, but she needed to be fleshed out, to be made real, to be seen,” Field explained. Much of Doris’ coming to life was manifested in her eccentric clothing choices. Field again described working closely with the costume designer, getting down to details like scarves and hair pieces, glasses, specific pieces of clothing, where Doris “started to come together, she started to materialize out of the fog, and then one day, there she was.” It was about a ten day period, Field said.
When asked what it was about the Doris short (Doris & the Intern) that made Showalter want to turn it into a feature, the director wasted no time saying that it was Doris’ character. In the short, “we don’t see any of her life outside of the work. She’s a comic protagonist we haven’t seen before, she’s outrageous and funny, she does bold things” (like stealing a pencil from the workplace because it was John’s, or standing up to her bully of a sister-in-law, “she’s shy but with a lot of bite.” Showalter added that he felt as though he knew this character or those like her (think Grey Gardens or Bill Cunningham New York), and that she’s so interesting: “the whole story is about her life: the ferry, Roz, the hoarding, connecting the dots…” He also called it a little Pretty in Pink, which is a great observation.
The next question asked Field whether or not she’d had any real crush on Greenfield. Showalter wanted to know whether or not she had a crush on him. Field: “Max is Max, let’s face it! I had what you’d have to call an actor’s crush on him. He’s so fun to work with!” She explained how embarrassed she had been at times, due to a few scenes she called “big make-out scenes.” Evidently, she felt a need to apologize beforehand, adding, “that’s all I’m gonna say” and that he told her not to worry, and that she was glad she apologized first, because it’s helpful to get over the embarrassment by going further: “they would have to peel me off him like an octopus! Cut, cut!” No one knew how far she’d go, apparently!
The final question for the evening threatened to put a damper on the mood in the Drafthouse when someone asked Ms. Field to comment on the controversy surrounding the Oscars this year. Collectively, the crowd groaned in objection (self included), but Field asked us if we really didn’t want her to answer. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can say that her response to the question itself, before she even answered it, is what piqued my interest. And answer it she did, calling it a legitimate question. “There are lots of actors and films, be they male or female, that should have been recognized,” she explained, adding that she had “very strong feelings about this!” She went on to say that she believes it has to do with “academy demographics,” and that it’s “illustrative of their voting preferences,” which is the problem. She called it “harmful to the environment and American film altogether.” She said that those that had been nominated where great films, but “this has been going on for a while,” saying that “little by little, females have been left out.” The controversy, Field said, “isn’t just awards. It’s happening with Hollywood mainstream films.” She indicated that she was personally rooting for and voted for films that didn’t make the cut: “how do you make this happen?” Field specifically cited both Straight Outta Compton and Beasts of No Nation and “if they’d been nominated… goddamn, they should have been nominated! It would mean more, people would see them. Storytelling and films is the way to recognize and heal the things we need to fix and improve in America,” Field lamented, calling it all a “terrible disservice on a larger scale.” She concluded by urging the audience to see them “right away,” calling them both “breathtaking pieces of work” and saying “it’s about our country right now, isn’t it?”
And that, my friends, is how my night with the legendary Sally Field (and the excellent Michael Showalter) concluded. I admit, I didn’t want to end the evening on a political note, but in retrospect I really admire the grace with which Field answered the question truthfully, in such a way that made me think. (And believe me: I already had opinions on the subject.) It’s the perfect way to define Field herself: never quite what you expect, because she’s everything you imagine her to be and so much more.