Nearly everyone who has ever had a job has a story about a lousy boss who was difficult to work with and ridiculously demanding, and there have been more than a few movies about folks struggling with arrogant employers (one of which was simply called Horrible Bosses). But Price Check mixes the formula up a bit by presenting a boss who is great and awful at the same time -- someone slightly crazy who asks more of the employees than they can honestly deliver, but who also knows how to motivate people, is willing to spend money, and has grand plans that almost sound feasible. And unlike most stories about the Bad Boss, Price Check makes its unstable employer a woman, and with Parker Posey in the lead, the character is also quite funny and multidimensional for all of her abundant flaws. The trouble is, without Posey’s acting, Price Check might not have made it past its first performance review.
Pete Cozy (Eric Mabius) spent most of his twenties working in the music business as a minor executive at a number of record labels, both big and small. But now that he and his wife Sara (Annie Parisse) have a three-year-old son named Henry (Finn Donoghue) to look after, he’s taken a more stable position with a small grocery-store chain, working with their strategic team on Long Island. Pete doesn’t care much about his job, but it doesn’t follow him home either, or at least not until his boss is fired and Susan Felders (Parker Posey) is brought in as a replacement. Susan imagined that she was on the fast track to a bigger position at the chain’s parent company, but now that she’s been moved out to Long Island, she’s determined to prove herself. She’s a bundle of drive and determination, but she also has an uncertain temper, a habit of lashing out at those who disappoint her, and an emotional neediness that manifests itself in curious ways. She immediately attaches herself to Pete, asking him for advice on who to fire, throwing him into time-intensive new projects, and aggressively befriending him and his wife -- even going as far as to invite herself to Henry’s Halloween party at preschool. However, Susan also doubles Pete’s salary and acknowledges his intelligence and drive, making him feel more engaged in his work than he has since leaving the music business. Sara is certainly happy that she and Pete are able to pay off some debts and buy a new car, and she becomes friends with Susan, but things take an unexpected turn for everyone when Susan brings Pete along to Los Angeles for a meeting with the corporate brass. Bennington (Edward Herrmann), one of the top executives at the firm, clearly likes Pete and feels he has potential, so Pete finds himself in quiet competition with Susan for a better position higher up on the company’s ladder; meanwhile, as Pete and Susan become closer, their friendship begins to evolve into something deeper.
While Eric Mabius’ Pete is the protagonist of Price Check, Parker Posey owns this movie from the moment she walks onscreen. Susan is a familiar character for Posey -- an aging hipster who isn’t as cool or likable as she imagines -- but her willingness to ride Susan’s strange combination of confidence and thoughtlessness to the outer edges is endearingly brave, and she milks a lot of laughter (and even a bit of sympathy) from a character who never seems less than dysfunctional every moment she’s awake; it’s one of Posey’s best performances in recent memory. Eric Mabius has a trickier role as Pete, and he fares less well. While he’s solid and likable in the early reels -- and he has agile comic timing -- the closer he becomes to Susan, the harder it is to understand his motivations for bonding with her outside of a professional environment, and it’s difficult to fight the urge to shout at the character for his bad judgment in the final act since the many negative consequences seem visible a mile away. And though Annie Parisse is charming and natural as Sara, she drops in and out of the story in a manner that suggests director and screenwriter Michael Walker has simply forgotten about her. Walker fills most of the supporting roles in Price Check with stock eccentrics who sometimes make this film feel like a low-key indie variation of The Office, and if the principals handle the material well enough, the lesser characters aren’t very well drawn and clutter the story rather than provide texture and detail. And since Walker has chosen to set his picture in a business that isn’t well known to many people, it’s hard to determine if what his characters are saying about pricing strategy or shelf placement is being played straight or is simply gobbledygook being tossed to the audience for laughs (especially since Susan’s can’t-miss plan is based on notions that don’t seem testable). Parker Posey makes Price Check into something better than the average independent comedy, but she can’t quite carry this movie by herself, and it fails to keep up the momentum it builds in the first half.
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