TNT’s “Door to Door” has all the earmarks of a message film, but no message. The disability card is played to overextended effect in this true tale of a nice salesman and his product line, and William H. Macy’s performance is a resume highlight, but there’s nothing much else to report here: Just a simple saga about a guy with cerebral palsy and the people who love him. Macy, who co-wrote the script with director Steven Schachter — they teamed on the cabler’s “A Slight Case of Murder” — has created a telepic that’s basically just a showcase for his sympathetic, likable portrayal.
Driving home the point in scene after scene that the disabled have feelings, too, “Door” is determined to show the upbeat side of cerebral palsy. Presenting the condition as if it’s a mere hindrance rather than something that can entail a lifetime of medical care, project doesn’t do as much justice to the cause of disabled individuals as it wants to.
Bill Porter (Macy) was always considered to be on the fringe of Portland, Ore., society, except by his mother (Helen Mirren). A tough lady with a longstanding objective to treat Bill as though nothing is wrong, she’s thrilled when he snares his first — and only — job, as a door-to-door vendor for the Watkins company in 1961.
At first told he couldn’t succeed, he proves the whole world wrong by walking up to 10 miles a day for 40 years, promoting the hell out of everything from washing detergent to dog biscuits. (At 69 today, he is still on the job via a Web site and has been featured on “20/20.”)
On his route, Bill, who hires perky coed Shelly Brady (Kyra Sedgwick) to help with deliveries, becomes everybody’s pal. As times change, his clientele doesn’t: He forever sells to the lone gay couple (Joel Brooks and Woody Jeffreys); he sells to the needy alcoholic (Kathy Baker), who bought from Bill out of pity; and he sells to a housewife who discovers her husband is cheating. Years later, he gets a visit from a newspaper writer — and long-ago neighbor — who wants to feature Bill in a piece about the dying breed of house-call retail.
“Door to Door,” co-executive produced by Forest Whitaker, is handled with extreme caution by Schachter, who focuses more on fedora and trenchcoat apparel than he does on anything of consequence. Considering the subject matter, it would have been helpful to include at least some of the hardships Porter has faced, instead of the “Life is like a box of chocolates” attitude.
But Macy’s perf does shine. Heavily made up and wafer-thin, with speech slurred, back arched and ears protruding, he transforms cleanly into the man. It’s the supporting cast, full of notable actors, that doesn’t quite gel with the material. Mirren is awfully underused as the doting and determined mother who becomes hospitalized, Sedgwick is her chipper self in a part that doesn’t require much depth and Baker plays her potentially profound role rather straight.
Tech credits are uniformly solid, with production designer Brent Thomas doing his part to create a suburban soul throughout the changing decades. The Chronology is occasionally jarring: After a title card of 1980, Bill and Shelley have a conversation about the benefits of personal computing and then head out for disco dancing. Technically, those two cultural markers may have overlapped, but that’s really pushing it.