One of the funniest scenes in Hello, My Name Is Doris is also one of the film’s saddest. Attending the seminar of a motivational speaker (Peter Gallagher) in the company of her best friend Roz (Tyne Daly), Doris (Sally Field) lets the speaker’s message soak into her heart. Nothing is impossible if you believe, the speaker says with the faux sincerity of a man who’s been at this scam for a long time. And it’s never too late to live your dreams. The only problem: For Doris, all evidence points to the contrary.
Deep in her sixties, Doris lives in a junk-filled Staten Island house, alone following the recent death of her mother. In spite of the urging of her brother (Stephen Root) and sister-in-law (Wendi McLendon-Covey), she’s shown no inclination to alter the Grey Gardens-like existence they’d created together. Each morning, she takes the ferry to work at the offices of a catalog clothing company. Each evening, she returns, sometimes picking up another item of junk along the way. She’s a hoarder and a cat lady, frumpily dressed and out of step with the world. Played by anyone other than Field and she’d risk tilting over into cliché.
Even Field has a hard time in parts of the movie, directed by Michael Showalter from a script he co-wrote with Laura Terruso in an expansion of her short film. It’s, in some ways, a daring film, putting Doris front-and-center and daring to make her alternately cute, pathetic, and unlikable. But that same sense of daring also makes it wobbly, with a tone that veers all over the place as Doris develops a life-altering crush on her handsome new co-worker John (Max Greenfield). Sometimes she seems comically smitten and the character plays like it could have been ripped from a sketch comedy. Other times she appears dangerously obsessed, catfishing John with a fake Facebook profile and following him and his girlfriend (Beth Behrs) as they go about their evening in Brooklyn.
The best parts of the film come from the way Field and Greenfield play off each other. Doris might be hopelessly dreaming when she entertains ideas of romance, but the film still creates a sense of connection between the characters. But Hello, My Name Is Doris can’t shake the feeling of a film divided against itself. In one scene, Doris poses comically for a hip band’s album cover. In another, she breaks down in tears as she tells her brother about the sacrifices she’s made and how much she’s given up and how little she has to look forward to in the years to come. The film can’t quite strike the delicate balance between comedy and tragedy the material needs. Instead, it gets lost somewhere in between, and in spite all the obvious love those involved have for the central character, they leave her stranded in a no-man’s-land.
There’s workplace awkwardness in another movie opening this week, too. The press materials for Creative Control, the second feature from writer/director/actor Benjamin Dickinson, refer to it as being set “five minutes in the future.” At times, it seems even closer to the present than that. Dickinson plays David, an ad man at a boutique Brooklyn firm with an open office and laid-back atmosphere far removed form the world of Mad Men. But the pressures are just as real and, if David is an example, the profession still serves as a magnet for self-destructive narcissists. Early on, David presides with seeming confidence over a pitch meeting to Augmenta, a company eager to find a broader audience for its state-of-the-art augmented reality glasses. (Think Google Glass except, you know, cool.) David wows the room, then throws up in the bathroom. The pills he’s taking aren’t working for him anymore. The alcohol he drinks off-duty doesn’t help, either, and he’s deep in the process of screwing up his relationship with Juliette (Nora Zehetner), a yoga instructor with anxieties of her own.
In short, reality isn’t quite working for him anymore, which makes it either the best or worst time for him to be testing Augmenta’s product. After enlisting a “genius-level creative” (Reggie Watts, as himself) to use Augmenta’s tech to create whatever he likes, David starts bringing it into his fantasy life, which lately mostly revolves around Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen), the artist girlfriend of David’s best friend Wim (Dan Gill), a photographer who cheats on Sophie and sends David pictures to prove it. He makes progress in his pursuit of her. Or maybe that progress is just something he imagines via Augmenta. It’s hard to tell sometimes and, as the film progresses, it only gets harder.
Dickinson’s film doesn’t have that much new to say about the what we gain and lose with technological advances — at times it plays like a low-budget prequel to Her. But it says it well, in spite of a final stretch that loses rather than gains momentum. Shooting in crisp black-and-white (with the occasional burst of color) and employing an unhurried pace and a relaxed approach to editing, Creative Control captures the way new tech both connects and divides those who use it. David’s middle-aged co-worker (Gavin McInnes) fumbles with devices that are second nature to the younger employees. David and Sophie furtively text across the office unbeknownst to those around them. It’s almost like a psychic connection, except neither can quite communicate what they mean as clearly as they like. Lost behind his Augmenta shades, David becomes rapt by the world he creates there. From the outside, he looks like he’s lost his mind. “It’ll be weird when we all have chips in our brain,” David says to Wim while they play handball in a rare moment apart from one sort of screen or another. “It won’t seem weird then,” Wim replies. “It’ll seem inevitable. The people who don’t do it will be the weird ones. It’ll be like the Amish.” Welcome to five minutes from now.