The Showalter State
Mr. Irony tries sincerity with Hello, My Name Is Doris
From his early work with the State comedy troupe to last year's underrated They Came Together – and most famously with his script (co-written with David Wain) for Wet Hot American Summer, which will be revived for a series by Netflix later this year – Michael Showalter helped pioneer ironic Gen X humor. His new film, Hello, My Name Is Doris, is a departure in style. Starring Sally Field, the film is a comedy in a more conventional but no less funny vein. Field plays an oddball hoarder from Staten Island who becomes smitten with her new, much younger boss (New Girl's Max Greenfield). She begins stalking him through Williamsburg hangouts, where she's recognized for her truly original sensibility.
Austin Chronicle: Where'd the idea for Doris come from?
Michael Showalter: Laura Terruso, my co-writer, made a short film at NYU graduate film school, where I was teaching. I saw her film, which is called "Doris & the Intern." It's an eight-minute short about a sort of kooky office worker who becomes infatuated with an intern. The short is really funny and quirky, and I thought that the Doris character had great comic potential.
AC: Sally Field is great in the role. Did you think of her while you were writing? How'd she get involved?
MS: It's beyond my wildest imagination that she wound up doing the film. But she was definitely someone who, from the earliest stages of writing the movie, had all the qualities we thought could make Doris a great character.
She's a dedicated, passionate artist who kind of elevated everybody around her. It was intimidating, because I admire her so much and have followed her career, but we very much collaborated on every aspect of it. The movie at times has a broad comedic, screwball quality, but at other times it gets very serious.
AC: You're bringing this to SXSW, sort of the ultimate hipster festival. What do you think your movie has to say about hipster culture?
MS: Doris is an authentic person. She stumbles into this hipster Brooklyn world where her authenticity is viewed through a lens of irony. Whereas for Doris there's no irony, no commentary. It just is who she is. She's searching for her family and thinks maybe that [could be] her family, because everything about her that's authentic has value in that world.
But it's fleeting. I think that's as much a comment on just being young as being a hipster. It's just the nature of being in your 20s and searching for identity and trying to find yourself. And Doris, as this person in her 50s who's also trying to find her identity, dovetails with this cultural zeitgeist. These women like Doris, who I think do exist, are weirdly connected to what's happening in the hipster subculture, with the artisanal spirit and the clothing and the love of things that feel very old and antique.
AC: This is a character-driven film with a sweet heart. There's less detachment than, say, Wet Hot American Summer. Was it a conscious effort to write with more sincerity?
MS: Yeah, I'd say so. It's a part of me as a writer that I don't get a chance to explore as much in that other kind of comedy that I work in – the zanier, crazier comedies that I'm probably better known for. I did want to expand on the part of me that wants to not wink at the audience and be ironic but really just tell a story and be as truthful as I could in a more classic sense. Those other films are known for being very meta funny. The joke is often referential in some way, commenting on some kind of trope. With Doris it's really straightforward. There's nothing meta about it. It's a story about this woman who has a life-changing experience. I love those kinds of movies.
AC: Speaking of Wet Hot, I have to ask – how's production going on the Netflix series?
MS: We actually finished shooting yesterday! I'm now in post production. It's going great. We had the whole cast come back, and there should be a series on Netflix this summer. There'll be lots of surprises, lots of fun. I feel really confident that the fans of the movie will feel rewarded for their patience.
Headliners, World Premiere
Hello, My Name Is Doris Saturday, March 14, 5pm, Paramount