Andrew Stanton’s animated aquatic sequel Finding Dory (B-) succeeds as a message movie about inclusion of characters with disabilities – showcasing a fish with short-term memory loss overcoming the odds – but stumbles in terms of its only mildly engaging protagonist, its flagging adherence to its own intrinsic logic and the lack of originality of its storyline. The film strives to deepen the Finding Nemo saga with Godfather II style flashbacks to back story while Dory searches for her parents but ends up closer to Evan Almighty territory with a minor character inexplicably nudged to the forefront. Despite noted objections, there are still imaginative touches involving the intricacies of a marine life refuge and an amputee octopus with clever camouflaging effects. We know we’re working in a talking animal universe, but there’s a jump-the-shark moment that might be termed invertebrate on the interstate or the mollusk motorcade and simply gets sloppy. Nemo and his dad are rendered rather ineffectual sidekicks while Ellen DeGeneres does what she can to squeeze out the waterworks of the film’s few poignant moments. The first film felt effortlessly entertaining, and this one more of a chore.
There’s a fine line between a hot flash and a hot mess, and Sally Field plays nearly every facet of an amazing woman coming into her own late in life as the title character of Michael Showalter’s Hello, My Name is Doris (B+). Although some sequences and snippets of the screenplay veer into overly broad comedy (it’s no accident that Field’s supporting cast includes talented sitcom stars Max Greenfield, Wendy McLendon-Covey and Beth Behrs), the pulsing heart of the film is the protagonist’s journey of self-acceptance and renewal. After the death of the mother she cared for most of her adult life, Field’s awkward ad agency accountant becomes romantically fixated with Greenfield’s charming millennial creative director who has given her some suspicious side-glances. We are in delight watching Doris grow giddy as a schoolgirl; and while we root for her, we also ponder how to solve a problem like this sheltered high-flying “nun”-derkind breaking free of her self-imposed convent and getting her groove back. Showalter finds fun and pathos in the generational juxtaposition: everything old is cool again, from knitting clubs to artisan cocktails to day-glow vintage fashions. The film is every bit a commentary on ageism as it is a good-natured ribbing of hipster culture. Tyne Daly is a highlight in the best friend role of this unconventional romcom, and it’s nifty to see women in their sixties bond and bicker with the best of ’em. Grace notes include awkward set-ups and awakenings, a spirited soundtrack and an empathy for Doris even when we’re cringing at some of her most ill-advised antics. Field is really the reason it all works, and she brings out her best in playing the truth of her character while leveraging the subversiveness of her comedic chops. Equally resonant to all who are young at heart, this Hello is welcome.