Editor’s note: Sundance premiere Price Check hits limited release tomorrow. Here’s a re-run of our Sundance review of the film, originally published on January 26, 2012.
Michael Walker‘s feature directorial debut, Price Check, starts off innocently enough, sort of a twist on Office Space if Lumbergh was actually a nice guy who wanted his unmotivated employees to succeed. Eric Mabius stars as Pete, who lost his dream job in music and is now forced to work in a regional pricing and marketing division for a failing division of a multi-brand grocery store company. Like most people these days, Pete is concerned about finances – he’s the only breadwinner in the house, and he and his wife have credit card bills to pay and a three-year-old to raise and probably a new car to get – and the recent departure of his beloved boss isn’t helping matters much. Who is going to replace him? And how is that going to affect Pete and his life?
If this plotline doesn’t sound just a bit boring, that’s okay, it is. But instead of beefing up his film with great lines and performances from more than just Mabius’ co-star, Parker Posey, Walker decides to go for some cheap switcheroos that left the audience at Eccles Theatre (where the film premiered) groaning.
Pete’s new boss is a mini-marketing guru who’s been in the grocery store game for “her entire life,” and who is determined to turn their failing chain around no matter what it takes. Susan (Posey) is unapologetically in love with her job – she’s so pumped on her first day, in fact, that it’s almost terrifying, particularly to her employees, none of who seem to care even half as much about their jobs as she does about hers. But Posey is game as ever, and even as Susan’s management techniques slide from “questionable” straight into “illegal,” it’s easy to see why her previously-bored employees are so excited to go along with her.
Susan quickly picks Pete out as her favorite, not deterred by his apparent interest in returning to music (though Pete never seems to listen to more than one song, and Mabius just seems down and morose about everything, even when he’s talking about getting back to his supposed dream profession), and takes him under her wing as they embark on an aggressive strategy to revitalize their stores. And then that all becomes more than just, well, wing-taking.
For about its first half, Price Check toddles along, somewhat funny and more than just a little innocuous, a gentle workplace comedy about loving what you do. Posey somehow pulls off Susan’s wild character deviations, and it’s easy enough to go along with the film and its story, and even to find some humor in the whole thing. Unfortunately, what could play as easy and sweet gets turned on its head somewhere in Price Check‘s middle.
Walker seems unconcerned (or even unaware) of how jolting the film’s tone change is, particularly because it involves both Pete and Susan acting in ways that go completely against what we have previously learned about each of their characters (even when it comes to the ever-wacky Susan, and that’s saying something). Suddenly, Price Check is a dark dramedy about getting what you want, no matter the cost – but by the time that change had taken hold, I’d checked out of the film almost totally, not wanting to spend anything on a film that doesn’t even know itself.
The Upside: Price Check features a solid comedic performance from star Posey, off-kilter and weirdly riveting as ever.
The Downside: The film is laughably uneven, and when it makes its second act tone and plot change, it’s severe enough to give its audience cinematic whiplash. The audience at Eccles groaned when Price Check revealed its true colors, a strange rarity that will likely repeat itself if the film ends up with a theatrical release.
On the Side: Read up on some grocery store marketing tactics that Pete and Susan might have utilized.