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Door to Door

Directed by Stephen Schactner with William M. Macy, Helen Mirren, Kyra Sedgwick and Kathy Baker, color, 90 minutes, 2002

DVD cover

DVD cover

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 thrilling.

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 them.

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 retarded!"

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 on?

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.


This film ranks 168th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films

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