Sally Field is no stranger to causes.
In 1979, she played the title character in “Norma Rae,” a single mother who fights to unionize the exploited workers in the mill where she’s employed. Fair labor practices was still a cause back then. She won a best actress Oscar.
In her new film, Michael Showalter’s “Hello, My Name Is Doris,” she plays the title character, Doris Miller, an older single woman who has spent her life as her ailing mother’s caregiver. Like her mother before her, she’s a hoarder, and their house on Staten Island overflows with the collected debris of decades: odds and ends plucked from the trash; a single, ancient ski; duck sauce packets from Chinese restaurants accumulated since the 1970s.
So “Doris” takes on two causes of growing concern these days — the plight of those who are left with the burden of caring for an elderly relative, and those suffering from one of the more debilitating forms of OCD.
But there will be no Oscar for “Doris.”
Doris is shy and reclusive, but at her mother’s funeral, which opens the film, she’s hard to miss. She’s the one dressed like a bag lady. Gaudily colored, wildly patterned mismatched skirts and shirts and sweaters and clashing tights. A Sara Palin-like wig secured by a raggy kerchief. Two pairs of cats-eye glasses.
Her mother’s death unmoors her until in a crowded elevator at work she squeezes up against hunky John (Max Greenfield), the company’s new art director.
After mugging us for laughs with grotesque close-ups of her bewildered, disgruntled, or near-orgasmic expressions, Field next tries to touch our hearts with her pitifulness. Stay away, crazy woman! At times she seems about to turn into Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.”
Except this is a case of “Futile Repulsion.” What is more pathetic in Hollywood than an older woman chasing a younger man? Nothing wrong with the reverse, though.
Gender discrimination in the film industry — now that’s a cause Field could really work with.
HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS
Directed by Michael Showalter. Written by Laura Terruso. Starring Sally Field, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Max Greenfield, Peter Gallagher, Stephen Root, Elizabeth Reaser, Tyne Daly, Beth Behr. At Boston Common, Coolidge Corner, Kendall Square, West Newton. 90 minutes. R (language).