Movie Review: Price Check
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 92 minutes
Release Date: November 16, 2012
Directed by: Michael Walker
Stars: 3 out of 5
The workplace can be comedy gold, especially if you work for a failing grocery chain as Pete (Eric Mabius), the protagonist of "Price Check," does. He is a quiet man who was once headed towards a stellar career as a music scout for a record label. He got married to Sara (Annie Parisse) and had a baby, which meant lots of extra responsibility. Since the life of a young scout is full of travel and uncertainty, he quits to take on a steady desk job with benefits. Pete probably didn't realize when he got hired that his coworkers would be such a motley crew. The merry band of misfits provides much of the comic relief in the film, which often looks like some of the escapades on the TV comedy "The Office."
Fearful that he will get laid off, the supervisor who oversees the pricing department where Pete works suddenly leaves the company. The corporate offices send in go-getter Susan (Parker Posey) to take the supervisor's place. From the moment her stiletto heels hit the bland office floor, the lives and jobs of everyone there are changed forever. Susan is a commanding presence who quickly judges her new charges and either fires them in a cost-cutting measure or gives them extra responsibility.
Pete is one of the workers who gets extra responsibility and then some. Susan doubles his salary and grooms him for a career in the corporate office, which is her dream as well. She is ambitious and just crazy enough to not let anyone stand in her way. The problem is that in order to keep hitting her goals to land her dream job, she takes big risks and acts in a way that could get her fired. Pete realizes that this can't go on, but says nothing because Sara is so happy with the extra money he is making.
Things really start to go off the rails one night on a business trip when Susan asks Pete to take her upstairs to her hotel room and impregnate her. Awash in alcohol, he starts laughing, thinking that she is surely joking. As it turns out, motherhood is another thing on Susan's list of goals. Although Pete seems like a good guy with a somewhat bland life, in one moment of passion with Susan, he turns his life completely upside down.
The weekend business trips with Susan become more frequent, and suddenly poor Sara doesn't seem as enthused as she initially was by Pete's doubled raise. She starts to worry that the Susan and Pete are having an affair, and finally confronts Pete about it. This sets up the final act of the film, which focuses more on Pete and the consequences of his choices than on Susan and her wild workplace antics. The focus on Pete fleshes out the character in a way that makes him relatable. Suddenly, he has depth, whereas before, the audience couldn't tell if there were any layers beneath the surface.
When the film was screened at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Posey explained why she took on the unhinged character. She said that she loved how Susan saw herself as a woman just trying to survive in a man's world. Instead, she was really a woman acting like a man in a man's world, but lacked the insight or self-analyzing skills to see the difference. Judging from Posey's performance, she understood this disparity, because she gives a fantastic performance as a middle manager with little self awareness.
Michael Walker wrote and directed the film, so he knows exactly what tone to take in each scene. "Price Check" starts off dull to reflect Pete's humdrum existence, then lightens up and eventually gets completely crazy, which is also a reflection of Pete's life. Even though Susan is the main character for much of the film, the whole story is still about Pete and how one single decision can possibly change the entire course of a life.
During Pete's life upheaval, Mabius does an admirable job portraying a man who is on the brink. If he isn't careful, he could become just as unhinged as Susan is, which wouldn't be good for his family life. Mabius goes from milquetoast to animated in a realistic, nuanced way that allows Pete to become the heart and soul of "Price Check," even as he makes some very big mistakes.
Walker hits on all of the points where Pete's life takes another turn, changing the tone to reflect the changes in his existence. Although Pete obviously makes bad decisions, his attempt to save everything and do the right thing is endearing and makes the audience cheer for things to go back to normal. After a crazy few months with Susan, Pete realizes that humdrum might not be so bad after all.