In Michael Walker’s “Price Check” Middle Class Malaise Is Turned Inside Out

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” —Henry D. Thoreau

Economic instability and the reorder of things as we know them can cause a reflection on the choices the most people feel forced to make about their lives. The consequences of those choices is the driving force behind Michael Walker’s Price Check.

Pete Cozy, played by Eric Mabius of Ugly Betty fame, has resigned himself to a humdrum middle class existence working in the pricing department of a middling supermarket chain. Though he is struggling financially, Pete Cozy has settled into middle class malaise with his wife and young son until firebrand Susan Felders (Parker Posey) is hired to re-invigorate the pedestrian supermarket with innovative strategies that will raise sales margins.  Felders identifies Cozy has the one team player that can assist her in the revamp of the food store. Though Felders’ maniacal strategies and machinations cause discord and office intrigue, her passionate enthusiasm inspires Cozy and fellow office cohorts to new levels of performance and team spirit; but, at what price?

Director/writer Michael Walker ingeniously uses the mundane world of supermarket price gouging and industry practices as a jumping off point to expand his perceptions about the trappings of a suburban lifestyle. Particularly, when that lifestyle defers aspirations and dulls existence. And though there is a fair amount of supermarket pricing lingo in Price Check, Walker has cleverly not overburdened the film with market strategy nomenclature.

What Walker does do well is his use of the Long Island supermarket setting as a background for his commentary on middle class malaise, and the twisted humor in corporate America’s frenzied obsession with price margins and bottom lines, bereft of creativity and human interaction. Walker’s naturalistic dialogue does help move the action along and gives nuance and relativity to several of the film’s characters.

As Peter Cozy, Eric Mabius brings a measured performance that initially evokes the characteristics of a  bright, creative type who has resigned himself to a quiet, unfulfilled existence. With the arrival of Susan Felders, Mabius character superbly shifts from a mild-mannered worker to an aggressive executive.

As Susan Felder, Parker Posey continues her reign as the queen of independent cinema. Her unpredictable, slightly psychotic behavior creates a fantastic juxtaposition against the banality of supermarket pricing. Crude, irreverent, crafty and wacky are all the essential ingredients that Posey’s character needs to keeps audiences poised for the next outlandish verbosity or scheme. And Posey delivers every time and more. As Walker shifts the plot toward Mabius’s character, Parker Posey expertly culls down the extremes, revealing layers of insight and resolve.

As Susan Felder’s ex-boyfriend Ernie, Cheyenne Jackson is wonderful eye candy. Unfortunately, Walker doesn’t give Jackson much more than that, which is a waste of Jackson’s talent.

Images courtesy of Sidney Falco

Though Price Check does lose a little steam in the middle, Walker’s excellent cast carries Price Check to a wonderful conclusion. With Price Check, Walker has crafted a wonderful comedic dissertation on the price of trading in dreams and aspirations for corporate viability.

Price Check stars Parker Posey, Eric Mabius, Annie Parisse, Cheyenne Jackson, and Josh Pais, and opens in select theaters on November 16.

—William S. Gooch

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