Note: Last 2 paragraphs might contain a spoiler.
Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 35 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 0; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 4.
Our star rating (1-5): 3.5
The fire of love stops at nothing—it sweeps everything before it.
Song of Solomon 8:6b (The Message)
Director Michael Showalter’s film about a woman in her 60s in love with a man in his late 20s has a lot going for it. Namely that its star is Sally Field, always enjoyable to watch. (Yes, I really do like her.) The film would be even more enjoyable were it not that the script, which the director co-wrote with Laura Terruso, includes an ethical lapse that, although the authors and possibly most of the audience, passes over, I believe people of faith will be troubled by. More on that later.
Doris (Fields) takes the ferry each day from Staten Island, where she cares for her ailing mother in the old family house. The shy, mouse-like woman has worked in Manhattan as an accountant at an upscale clothing label for many years, one co-worker saying that Doris is one of the few holdovers from the days when the company “sold chinos.” At the beginning of the film Doris and her brother Todd (Stephen Root) and his wife Cindy (Wendi McLendon-Covey) attend their mother’s funeral. They immediately argue about the family house. Todd and Cindy want Doris to clear out the clutter of many years and sell the house so they can divide up the proceeds. They go to the extent of hiring Dr. Edwards (Elizabeth Reaser), a therapist dealing with hoarders. The doctor, fortunately, is far more understanding than Todd and Cindy, so at first, when Doris cannot stand to part with anything, the patient therapist does not give up on her.
At Doris’s workplace there is one of those meet-cute scenes in the office elevator. Doris has picked up on the street a large desk lamp, and when young John (Max Greenfield) enters facing the back, he is pushed up against Doris and unable to turn around because of the press of the crowd. They exchange a few words and then exit. In the office the manager introduces the company’s new art director, John. Doris, surprised, imagines that she has made such an impression on him that he calls her up before her peers to commend her. Later on, during a coffee break, Doris even imagines him stripping off his shirt for a quick moment of intimacy. She is clearly smitten with a man young enough to have been her son.
The company brings in slick motivational speaker Willy Williams (Peter Gallagher) whose motto is “Every week has seven days. None of them are named Someday.” Doris speaks with him, and, though knowing no details of her situation, he encourages her to follow her dream, his parting thought being, “Impossible means I’m possible.” Already a consumer of popular romance novels, Doris now determines to follow his advice by working out a campaign to woo John.
Doris shares her infatuation over John with her best friend Roz (Tyne Daly). More grounded in reality, Roz does not support her. However, her 13 year-old granddaughter Vivian (Isabella Acres), does, helping her to set up a Facebook account under a false name so she can “friend” John, and thus stalk him on the internet. Learning about John’s tastes, especially in music, Doris buys a record of his favorite local band. She draws her closer to her love object, even dressing in a groupie vintage clothes costume and attending a band concert where she knows she will bump into him. Delighted that she shares the same love for the band, he hoists her onto his shoulders for a better look. The bandleader sees her, likes her enthusiasm and wild costume, and backstage asks her to pose for photos for the cover of the band’s next album.
Doris, with John accompanying her, is thrilled to be in the spotlight for the first time in her life, and even more so from what she thinks is John’s romantic interest in her. However, two flies land in her ointment of happiness. She breaks with Roz because the latter will not accept her fantasy, and equally bad, while stalking John, she discovers that he has a girlfriend, the gorgeous Brooklyn (Beth Behrs), an aspiring singer. The generous-minded Brooklyn takes to Doris when they are introduced, even inviting her to join her knitting group. The jealous Doris plays along, enjoying the photo sessions for the band, attending its parties, and even joining Brooklyn’s knitting group—all of the younger people accepting her now bizarre garb and quaint way (to them) of talking. With Vivian’s help Doris, under her Facebook persona, posts a note on John’s wall that makes Brooklyn think he is cheating on her.
The couple breaks up, and Doris is there to help John get over his pain. This leads to…
The film deserves high marks for exploring the loneliness of an older woman, a feeling no doubt felt by a great many older persons, men included. At one point she says, “I hope I don’t end up like one of those weirdo New Yorkers that chokes on a peanut and dies and no one even misses me!” In the case of Doris her loneliness is not due because she has lost a spouse, but that she had always been so occupied with caring for her mother that she had passed up an opportunity for marriage. Her resentment over being left by her brother as the sole caretaker explodes in a powerful scene with him and his wife.
The film is insightful too in its depicting of hoarding, in her case as a substitute for more healthful outside interests because of her confinement. Hoarding is such a widespread problem that there is even a TV series about it.
Also, two other good things about the film—few films have had a woman as the older partner in a romance, and the theme of true friendship is well embodied in the character of Roz. The latter is grounded in reality, able to see what Doris cannot. Unfortunately, the film’s supposedly uplifting ending sets aside Roz and her sense of reality.
And there also is the ethical lapse mentioned earlier. In real life, as opposed to reel life, usually there are consequences for stepping beyond the bounds of ethics. Doris has used a deceitful, underhanded tactic to break up the romance between John and Brooklyn. What if John learns about the false Facebook persona whose post alleging a romance caused Brooklyn to break with him? And even if he does not, can an intimate relationship based on deception really become a healthy one?
The biblical poet writes, “The fire of love stops at nothing,” and this certainly applies to Doris, the “nothing” comprising an act that the poet would not have accepted as legitimate. The preceding questions are not answered, nor even recognized, by the filmmakers. I want to applaud it because of its delightful cast and excellent scenes—there is especially a moving one on the subway when Doris, dressed in her age-inappropriate costume, feels her age, the camera coming in for a facial close-up that reveals clearly the creases around her eyes and mouth—but with a little more discernment, I believe this could have been a much better film. What do you think–have the filmmakers pandered to their audience’s desire for a happy ending?
This review will be in the April 2016 issue of VP with a set of discussion questions.