Image courtesy of Haven Entertainment and Red Crown.
“Hello, My Name is Doris” is a light-hearted comedy following Doris Miller (played by Sally Field). Doris is an eccentric woman whose crush on her younger coworker, John (played by Max Greenfield), marks the beginning of a new life she feels she can finally control.
The movie is fun and easily consumable. But the story’s big kicker seems to be that Sally Field is some thirty-odd years older than Max Greenfield, as depicted in trailers. It’s the film’s selling point: come see an almost seventy-year-old woman attempt to seduce Prince Charming. Come laugh at Doris, not with her.
Clearly, that’s what draws us in as an audience, but why?
In the 2016 movie “Dirty Grandpa,” Robert De Niro (now 72) hooks up with Aubrey Plaza (now 31). In the 1990 movie “Pretty Woman,” Richard Gere (now 66) falls in love with Julia Roberts (now 48). In the 1957 movie “Funny Face,” Fred Astaire (born 1899) wins over Audrey Hepburn (born 1929).
Why is “Doris” any different from a long history of large age gaps in movies? It stands out because the older lead is a woman, and that’s it.
This double standard stems from a deeply rooted problem in Hollywood, touched on in Amy Schumer’s sketch, “Last Fuckable Day.” The sketch includes actresses such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patricia Arquette, and Tina Fey. Schumer stumbles upon these women having a picnic, and they share that they are celebrating Louis-Dreyfus’s last fuckable day in Hollywood.
Louis-Dreyfus explains to a confused Schumer: “In every actress’s life, the media decides when you finally reach the point where you’re not believably fuckable anymore.”
This is when actresses are no longer given roles such as the quirky lead, the wise and funny sidekick, or any complex character. They are then only given roles of background characters, such as the mothers, aunts, and grandmothers of lead roles. They are forgettable. They are characters without any dimension, and with even less screen time. Meryl Streep reportedly turned down three witch roles because, she noted, “I was not offered any female adventurers, or love interests, or heroes, or demons. I was offered witches because I was ‘old’ at 40.”
Similarly, Olivia Wilde came out in an interview recently, claiming she did not get the role Margot Robbie (now 25) landed in Wolf of Wall Street, because Wilde was “too old” to be Leonardo DiCaprio’s love interest. She is now 32 – almost ten years younger than DiCaprio, who is now 41.
When women are reduced to lifeless roles in films and television, it echoes in society. This representation in Hollywood perpetuates the idea that women off-screen are only worthy, beautiful, and complicated until they reach middle age. Once they inevitably hit that point, they are one-dimensional, undesirable, and boring.
Meanwhile, male actors, and similarly men off-screen, are generally seen as powerful, successful “silver foxes,” that are ultimately in their prime at 40. It has been unfairly stated that men simply “age more gracefully than women.” But that’s not true. They’re just allowed to age, and with their humanity intact.
What the “Hello, My Name is Doris” trailers don’t convey is how conspicuously the movie challenges this double standard in Hollywood, and thereby society’s view on women as a whole. We’re meant to laugh at Doris in the trailers, but in the movie theater, Doris is more than her desperate crush on John. We laugh with her as she proves her complexity through her relationship with her brother. We watch as she grows out of a hoarding problem. We celebrate with her as she flourishes, even at (gasp) sixty-something.
“Hello, My Name is Doris” isn’t the romantic-comedy it’s depicted to be, rooted in problematic laughs. It’s truly a coming-of-age tale. And whether she gets the guy or not, Field’s portrayal of adventure seeking, thriving Doris Miller is brilliant and revolutionary, as it gives life to all women over Hollywood’s damnable age.
But for the record (spoiler alert): she does get him and really, the depiction of a sexually desired older woman makes it all the better.