Amy Gottlieb, MA, LMFT
I don’t know about you, but so often when I see movies where characters have serious psychological challenges, and the films are in the genre of comedy, I end up having a real problem with finding the characters’ suffering very funny.
In “My Name Is Doris”, described as a “rom-com”, and still in theaters, the character Doris is played by the remarkable Sally Fields. Fields does a beautiful job with the character, but it’s the plot I have problems with. While the audience is laughing uproariously over Doris’s funny hoarding, and her funny romantic obsession with a man at least 3 decades younger than she, and her funny other eccentricities that cause her to be the laughing stock of the office where she works, I am cringing.
This is a woman who has sacrificed the better part of her life to care for her sick mother. Doris loses her one and only romantic relationship when she was much younger, because she had to move to her mother’s home in another town to take care of her, thereby ending the engagement. Her unbelievably selfish brother and his unbelievably selfish and nasty sister-in-law sure as hell aren’t going to help. They’re just waiting for their mother to die so they can sell her property and divide the profit from her home. That would be the home Doris has come to think of as her own all these years, where she has given up her own life to take care of her mother. Are you laughing yet?
Doris’s longstanding job as the bookkeeper of a hip and trendy firm is full of co-workers who make fun of her behind her back. And then along comes the newly hired very handsome and charming art-director, John, (played by Max Greenfield), who is decent and humble enough to treat her with sincere kindness. And so Doris, this lonely woman in her 60’s, so unaccustomed to be given the time of day, starts to fantasize this much younger man could become hers.
Funny scenes ensue where she fantasizes about all kinds of sexual situations with him, causing her to freeze in the middle of the coffee-room at work, so engrossed is she in her fantasy. That picture of her frozen and lost in thought with her mouth in a kissing position in the middle of the office is not funny to me. It’s just incredibly sad.
Among other eccentricities, Doris dresses in a way that is so outlandish, she draws snickers and stares from people at work and elsewhere. And we, the audience, laugh with them over how absurd she is. Ha ha ha. So funny. Not!
Doris has a sister in law (played by Wendi McLender) who is so incredibly mean and thoughtless around her, I wanted to put my hand through the screen and strangle her. And her brother (actor Stephen Root) pretty much allows this treatment of his sister by his wife all of the way through the movie. What kind of spouse would allow his spouse to essentially verbally abuse his sibling?
After their mother dies, this brother and his wife can’t wait to sell their mother’s house, and essentially kick Doris out with no concern as to where she could go live. So the years when Doris could have built a family of her own have passed her by because all she did was go to work and take care of her mother, and for all that sacrifice, she isn’t even left with a home.
Every once in a while, the movie forgets it’s a comedy, and we are meant to feel Doris’s real pain, which is pretty incongruous since we have been laughing at her most of the film.
Bottom line, the way Doris’s problems are dealt with in the story can be very sad to watch. The worst of which may be when her therapist comes to the house to help her break her habit of hoarding, and this therapist allows the brother and his awful wife to be present without Doris’s consent — give me a break! Don’t you hate it when therapy is so misrepresented?
Yes, I enjoyed that Doris actually becomes friends with the young man of her dreams; and it’s wonderful to see Doris go from an oddball outcast, to an appreciated human being. But the plot points in this film, especially leading up to and including the end are so cringe worthy, I lost the enjoyment of this important transition in Doris’s life.
(As always, Amy is interested in your reaction to her column. If you have anything you want to share, please feel free to e-mail her at email@example.com)