' ' Cinema Romantico: Price Check

Monday, April 22, 2013

Price Check

I have a few rules in life. If Sierra Nevada is on tap, I drink it. If A Tribe Called Quest and/or Kylie Minogue is on the jukebox, I play it. If a person says to me “I love talking shop”, I gather my things and immediately flee the premises.

Susan Felders (Parker Posey), the character at the core of writer/director Michael Walker’s “Price Check”, actually says, “I love talking shop.” It made me shiver. It also clearly defined her character. She is the brand new boss of a division of a mom and pop supermarket store in charge of setting prices. A brazen taskmaster, she roars into her first meeting with the new charges, hands out copies of her own resume and promptly announces she will throwing a Halloween party at which a costume is mandatory. The Halloween party is telling – despite her claims it’s about fun, it’s a covert way of showing who’s in control (“No one leaves until they’ve sung karaoke!”).

Susan singles out Pete Cozy (Eric Mabius), happily married to Sara who is taking care of their young son, as her right-hand man. Straight away he indicates his contentment with remaining middle-of-the-pack at work, leaving him to spend more time at home and less time stressed out about an industry for which he has little interest aside from the paycheck. Once he worked in the music industry but, as we are constantly reminded in the film and outside of it every single day, that industry is dying. But with Susan at the helm, Pete climbs the ladder, becoming VP, earning a massive pay increase, masterminding new strategies, flying to L.A. to meet the company bigwigs to help pitch those strategies, and all simply because he was once a Dartmouth man. That, or Susan knows she can wield him as a puppet.

Posey is a gas, like a corporate snake charmer, not a character for whom we root, per se, but whom we watch with alternate dread and fascination. She may crack the whip with way too much gusto but she is good at her job, which she claims to love even as she lets us glimpse cracks in her stylized dam. She outfits the character with subtle dimension, particularly in the way she glops on to Pete and his family which, we realize, is less about further manipulation than desperation for......something.

Mabius, on the other hand, is a problem, though admittedly the script puts him in a no-win position. It is made clear at the outset that even if he is unhappy (or perhaps reluctantly content) at work, he is happy at home. Slowly, though, he becomes more happy at work before the story takes a different turn in L.A. Can you “see it coming”? Yes, you can, but only because these sorts of stories often slant in this direction. If instead you are simply observing Pete’s behavior then no, you can’t see it coming. As acted and written the character would not make this decision. Open and shut. Another Reveal later in the movie sort of works to cover this glaring flaw, but not really because 1.) It sort of tries to let him off the hook at the same time the Reveal is made and 2.) the Reveal simply reveals itself as further proof of the film’s second half over-reliance on needless melodrama to form its resolution.

There are interesting ideas at the core of “Price Check.” All the corporate jargon is just window dressing for the very real concept of what constitutes a necessary sacrifice for family and what we are willing to do and/or tell ourselves in order to have some semblance of peace when going to sleep at night. The conclusion, even after all the unfortunate mechanics of the second half, has a chance for either high satire or realistic resignation and instead it opts for middle of the road mawkishness. All the sins of the preceding scene have apparently been cleansed off camera.

If Susan Felders had read the screenplay she would have whined, flopped around on the floor and demanded a re-write.


Lexi said...

I'll have to see this. And Man, as of late, I think anyone who says they love talking shop would send me running for the door as well! Sigh...

Mette said...

I never heard anyone say they love talking shop. What does that even mean?
Anyway, I don't think I'm going to watch this.

Nick Prigge said...

Basically it means talking about your job. I wonder if that's just an American expression? I'm guessing it is. It sounds like something America would invent.

And unless you're a hardcore Parker Posey fan (which I am) it really isn't necessary to watch.