Selling umbrellas on a sunny day is the first and least of Stanley Grimp’s problems in Death of an Umbrella Salesman, a short film directed by Steve Herold. Grimp (Kevin Kolack) is a stocky schlub going door-to-door, pulling his never-lightening load of umbrellas behind him in what looks like the first draft of the shopping cart. His life is a petty-paced tragedy of rejection, loneliness, and dashed hopes, all because he can’t sell an umbrella. You might even say he can’t sell an umbrella to save his life.
Aside from his natural inaptitude for sales, Grimp is also fighting the current of a new world. The door-to-door salesman is as antiquated as a fax machine or good taste. He’s unable to compete with the endless options of the online marketplace or the terrifying speed of delivery drones. I’d be willing to bet that a milkman wouldn’t buy an umbrella from him. The people have spoken, and the free market has obeyed: the door-to-door salesman is out. To some extent, Grimp knows it. When your very presence inspires a man with a noose around his neck to continue living, because you reveal to him depths of misery he didn’t know existed, you must at least have a baseline understanding of where your life has wound up.
“…life is a petty-paced tragedy of rejection, loneliness, and dashed hopes, all because he can’t sell an umbrella.”
This is all well and good, but Death of an Umbrella Salesman doesn’t take it much further. It’s not as funny as a flat-out comedy nor as corkscrew-to-the-heart as a tragedy. It’s a simple idea played out in a slightly amusing way, skipping along the surface of its synopsis like a stone. The mesh of the modern world with a 1950s suburban utopia is sort of interesting, as when Grimp meets someone as out of time as he is, only for that to go wrong, as well.
The movie is funniest when it leans hard into the horrible—the suicidal man, now cured, throwing his noose in Grimp’s face. Though you almost wish it had been tossed over his back and caught by Grimp, like a bouquet at a wedding selecting its next victim. There are some Saturday morning cartoon effects thrown in, too, which go a little way in giving the movie an identity.
There’s nothing exceptional about Death of an Umbrella Salesman, but it’s adorable in its own way, and you can see where it might have gone. Grimp is a bona fide loser, and, as far as this dummy is concerned, there’s no better protagonist than a good, solid loser. The movie never takes it to the next level, where it becomes something memorable, because all it does is play with the existing toys. It’s reenacting ideas in a slightly different way. It doesn’t go out of its way to subvert or add anything. Like so many movies, it’s frighteningly content with disappearing into the crowd.
"…funniest when it leans hard into the horrible..."