By Carter B. Horsley
The hard-working professionalism of the lead
in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," and the manic
desperation of the characters in David Mamet's "Glengarry
Glenn Ross," portray sales people as ruthless, cut-throat,
and very competitive and not very honest.
Miller's sales world at least has some sense
of tradition and honor whereas Mamet's is simply survival of the
meanest. These are the grunts of capitalism who sacrifice their
pride for the sake of profit.
Such cynicism, of course, overlooks the legions
of unambitious but pleasant and nice people who eek out a living
for the sake of their families and have long since abandoned dreams
of glory for themselves while still cherishing the notion that
their children will fare better.
The American dream is freedom in principle
but hustle in reality.
This 2002, 90-minute film is very modest, but
its tale of fortitude in the constant face of frustration is quite
It stars William H. Macy who also co-wrote
the film with Stephen Schactner, the movie's director. Macy's
performance is spectacular as he portrays several decades in the
life of a man with cerebral palsy. He has very large ears, goofy
teeth, a stoop and no use of his right hand.
When the film begins he is living with Helen
Mirren in the 1950s. It is not immediately clear that she is his
mother rather than his wife. She makes sandwiches for him when
he goes up with "persistence" written in jam on one
side and "patience" on the other. She drives him about
as he tries to get a job and then when he begins his job as a
door-to-door salesman. His appearance and speech and sales patter
and products do not endear him to many customers. His mother,
however, oftens him enthusiastic support.
He is persistent but not at all obnoxious and
finally lands a customer for a few of his cheap products. He is
thrilled but his boss tells him that he is not selling enough.
He keeps trying with some success. He apparently has a knack for
long-winded jokes that amuse a hotel porter and bookjack who help
him button his sleeves and shine his shoes in return for a really
good joke and he is smart enough not to forget to discretely tip
Life doesn't seem all bad until his mother
begins to lose her memory and no longer can take care of him.
There is some delightful and poignant banter between them but
eventually she has to be put in a home.
The film covers a lot of time. We watch as
he ages fairly gracefully but with limited maturity. At one point,
some young kids in the next booth in a diner make fun of him as
a "retarded" person and a few minutes later his mother
turns around to borrow some katchup from their booth and accidentally
spills it in the lap of the taunter and remarks "sorry, how
She is clearly a great, feisty and wonderful
parent, but half way through the film she dies. What will become
of her son?
He has managed to ingratiate himself with some
people and customers through his naievete and charm and through
his earnest hard work he not only survives at his job but earns
the respect of his fellow workers. He is, however, something of
a lost and rather helpless soul.
In addition to losing his mother, he is getting
older and needs help lugging about samples and the like. Eventually,
he hires a young college student, played by Kyra Sedgwick. The
weakest part of the movie is how such a sexy woman as Ms. Sedgwick
would take a low-paying rather menial job. She is, however, fine
in the role as a very sympathetic and very helpful "assistant."
Being an assistant, however, is not easy as
Macy's character is very proud and wants to manage on his own
and not admit that he needs help. His is a lonely life and he
is too naieve to recognize that one of his customers, an attractive
middle-aged woman, clearly likes him very much, occasionally offering
him a drink with vodka in it and touching his jacket. He does
very briefly look at her longingly as she has closed the door,
but romance is not to be.
The film moves along and his dogged performance
at the job earns him a "Salesman of the Year" award.
At one point, he gets a fleeting glimpse of
Sedgwick's breast as he passes the bathroom and when he later
his assistant's graduation from college and meets her boyfriend
it is apparent that he became infatuated with her. They eventually
go their own ways because he is too proud to accept help.
As the years go by, he shuns technology but
also finds that the "door-to-door" division of his company
has been relegated essentially to a closet while most salesmen
now work "800" numbers.
He's politely encouraged to retire and when
he does he is not happy. He begs to be rehired and eventually
does get rehired on a part-time basis.
This is a very, very sensitive and understated
story of a simple man who is not a perfect speciman. Macy and
Mirren are fantastic.
What makes the meek get up and go and carry
The clue in this film is the mother's enveloping
love and advice to be persistent and patient.
There is great honor is just trying.