Sundance 2012: Money squelches dreams and character development in ‘Price Check’
Written and directed by Michael Walker
Parker Posey is undeniably fun to watch as the mean and conniving Susan Felders in Price Check. Her one liners have real sting and lost to her is an awkward but amusing inability to actually connect to others without unabashed self-promotion. The problem is that she embodies the worst stereotypes of a woman in power out there. She is ball crushing yet sexually available, jealous of women with families and motivated purely by what power she can grab. It is hard to get past this and how her lust for money rubs off on everyone else to the point where they become even more empty and detestable versions of herself.
Pete Cozy (Eric Mabius of Ugly Betty) is our protagonist, a guy who has switched careers from a dream job as a representative in the music industry to promoting sales in grocery stores. The motivation is clear- he did it in order to provide a better salary and lifestyle for his growing family. Established as a stand up bread winner but a sad figure with lost hopes, Pete thinks about his life logically and with others always in mind. Into his life comes Susan, an executive who radically rearranges the layout of grocery stores to skyrocket sales. She turns the office’s quiet dynamic into a fear-based prison where only the selfish get ahead. She promotes Pete to vice president based on his ivy league pedigree or perhaps just because of his handsome appearance and obviously viable sperm. In flipping the power structure Pete owes every advancement and accolade that comes his way to Susan. He latches on to the excitement she provides and the reinvigorating push towards wealth she’s gives him. What he overlooks is that she’s a master manipulator- looking out for number one at all times. His wife is also another female stereotype that’s just as unflattering, limited and undeveloped. Yes she is angelic, safe and mother of his children but doesn’t openly question what it is that helps their fortunes. She is equivalent but less cognizant than Beth Gallagher- the naive, dutiful, lady Madonna-esque wife in Fatal Attraction. It is interesting but appalling that Sara Cozy (Annie Parisse) knows that something is not right with how much time Pete is mandated to spend with Susan but lets it go unchecked because of the extraordinary amount of money coming in makes life so much more comfortable for them.
Where the film fails is that it depicts the reality of leaving a job that has turned into masochistic enslavement for something more fulfilling (but much less economically viable) far too realistically. It then asks us to find settling for money instead of love and true happiness as funny, something to chuckle about as people fall pray to greed. That Susan wants a family should make her character more developed but in seeing that she just wants kids for that extra achievement, the cherry on top of the sundae- she is brought back down to being a one dimensional caricature. It ceases to be funny when she takes teaches everyone around her that the worst people can get ahead by throwing off anything that ever mattered to them.
A film doesn’t have to have characters that are moral or who don’t give into desire but Price Check gives us nothing to come away with- save for the buoyant, ravenous energy of Parker for the first two-thirds of the movie. It takes our main character far too long to realize the extent of Susan’s machinations to make him relatable or sympathetic. Caring for no one but herself and the bottom line of her job, Susan Felders is not an entirely unrealistic person. What is disappointing is that Pete, while being weak- doesn’t have any bite or fight in him. Because of this Felders goes unchallenged and her viewpoint is allowed to dominate the perspective of the film. We are given no alternative, money has to be the deciding factor in our lives, we’re to go on compromising to make ends meet or stepping on others to amass fortune until we forget who we originally wanted to be. The audience goes home with the feeling of being heaped onto the pile where the film’s other characters have landed- tossed to the side just like their dreams.
– Lane Scarberry