It’s strange to think a movie about a foul mouthed, former Olympic gymnast and a movie about a hoarding spinster pining for a younger man would have so much in common but this past month has produced two indie comedies lead by unique personalities where these characters embark on a journey of emotional growth. In The Bronze Melissa Rauch plays the brassy, athletic has-been Hope Ann Gregory living in the shadow of her former glory until she is roped into training a fresh Olympic hopeful. In Hello, My Name is Doris Sally Field’s titular character after the death of her mother meets a handsome thirtysomething at her job played by Max Greenfield and decides to reinvent herself to gain his affection. Both films are about women living in the past being compelled forward due to a youthful influence that inspires them. One may welcome change more than the other but each film is about exiting your comfort zone and boldly reintegrating with society. In these otherwise low key indie films, these bigger and broader characters personify those themes but are not so over the top that we can’t relate to their foibles and hardships.
Hope is definitely the more outrageous character as probably less of us have encountered an arrogant bronze medalist than a crazy cat lady but the headspace the latter movie puts us in can feel quite outlandish. Doris brings us into her fantasies as she fills her work day with dreams of steamy encounters with John which we see come to life on screen. Her obsession with cheesy romance novels leads to her imagining the highly unlikely scenarios of a shirtless Greenfield making out with Doris in the break room. For a mostly grounded film, director Michael Showalter brings flourishes of fantasy with scenes like that in an otherwise mundane world. Oppositely, Hope is already living the delusions of grandeur as she believes she’s still the celebrity she was 15 years ago. Her home of Amherst, Ohio keeps that dream alive by honoring her as the hometown hero at all her favorite eateries (which is her top priority). Rauch is able to play this character so big because it’s understandable why a small town may tolerate such an ego.
Wardrobe plays a significant role in these characters’ personas. Partially why I’d consider Doris a heightened character is the loud fashion choices she makes. Costume designer Rebecca Gregg’s choice in bright cardigans and patterned headwraps makes Doris bounce off the screen in a sea of gray cubicles. Her clothes lend to the delightfully eccentric nature of a character willing to pick up oddly shaped lamps from the side of the street. As much as her family and coworkers find her strange when she ventures into Brooklyn with John where the hipsters find her style exciting and dub her a “true original”. It’s a subplot of Doris’ emotional growth as she gains confidence from being accepted into this youthful community. Costumes also play a large role in The Bronze but opposed to the vibrancy of Doris, Hope insists on only wearing her aging tracksuit from her one shot at the Olympics. Her refusal to wear anything else is one of the symbols of her resistance to move on. We see her maturation when she is able to shed the tracksuit and where normal clothes. Also the colors for her signature outfit pop but because of their overt patriotic colors. It’s a film set in a midwestern town in Ohio where Hope is very proud to reside in. Her few positive qualities come from her commitment to the hometown that honors her and it’s very much meant to represent the community and simplicity of the heartland.
Aside from the environment and style that informs these characters are the people they interact with that set their journeys in motion. Hope first resists training newcomer Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson) for fear of losing her thunder but once they begin their mentor/mentee rapport, she realizes the passion she has for coaching and is able to develop beyond just reminiscing about her past in her dad’s basement. She is able to provide a service to the community she cares so deeply about. Doris feels she never got a chance to flourish because of her loyalty to her mother. We learn she stayed home caring for her mother and her brother was given all the opportunities which she held resentment towards. Her friendship and fictionalized romance with John invigorates her to reclaim the identity she feels so robbed of. With her new interests she’s also let’s go of the unnecessary baggage in the form of her mother’s house that she’s been hoarding for years. There is a similar arc in the movies of learning to let go of the past but also that these driving relationships don’t work out. After Maggie wins gold at the Toronto games, she abandons Hope to join a more prestigious gym. While the town is devastated, Hope realizes it’s an opportunity for her to reinvigorate her community but this time in a positive manner. She assumes part ownership of the local gym to coach more enthusiastic youngsters. Doris’ prospects go south with John as she inadvertently sabotages his relationship with his girlfriend and finds it hard to forgive her. The movie ends on a positive note because even though she has not won over the guy, she gained self confidence to improve her own life. She sells the house and quits her job, not knowing what may lie ahead of her but optimistic to take on the future.
I love that indie comedies give the opportunity for such bold, weird characters to carry a film. Everyone around them is a straight man to their odd choices and while it’s easy to see how these films could have divulged into a drawn out Saturday Night Live sketch yet these characters feel multidimensional through earnest performances and world building around them. As Doris yells at her brother in the film “maybe you’re the crazy person and I’m the normal one” and considering how fun it is to be in the mind of these characters, I wouldn’t mind being a little crazy sometimes.