With Price Check, a dark and droll indie from writer-director Michael Walker, Parker Posey lands a vehicle with dry intelligence, ready-to-snap kookiness, and a grassroots nature that’s raw and immediate. In other words, a work that mirrors the actress’s own long-standing virtues. Back on the big screen after a lengthy stretch of TV guest spots, Posey stars as efficiency-minded whip-cracker Susan Felders, who’s hired to take control of a grocery-store chain’s lackluster Long Island headquarters. With her reputation as a “real ball-buster” preceding her, Susan storms in with startling force, wielding motivational rants and corporate Kool-Aid for all to imbibe. While still always seeming like her sharp and shrill self, Posey fashions Susan into a warped, unique creation, who, in a single scene, can register as sincere, cutthroat, ethical, and dangerously unhinged. To her new throng of listless cubicle dwellers, played by dead-on scene-stealers like Amy Schumer and Xosha Rocquemore, she rapidly becomes someone to bitch about and proudly follow into hell, her free-flowing insults paired with legit, infectious drive.
Within days, Susan pins her sights on Pete Cozy (Eric Mabius), whose surname none-too-subtly points to his middle-class complacency. A challenge-averse drone who ditched his music-production dreams to make ends meet, Pete responds to Susan’s arrival by scrambling for a new job, but the dogged boss slows his roll, buffering her clear attraction by talking shop and promising promotions. Awkwardly crossing boundaries and further exerting her influence, Susan weasels her way into Pete’s life, even inviting herself to meet his wife, Sara (Annie Parisse), and attend his young son’s Halloween party. As Susan and Pete fast emerge as the king and queen of company growth, gabbing about competitors’ tactics and meeting with industry honchos, their requisite affair is far less interesting than their timely class clash, which Susan observes with both sympathy and passive condescension.
Walker’s film ably speaks to the plight of the modern nine-to-fiver, who can feel bits of his or her soul dissolve with each daily commute; however, Price Check doesn’t play like one more reactionary work of economic woe, largely because it’s so savvy about its drab and specified world. The script is teeming with informed jargon about the business of supermarket pricing, and with actors like Posey as its vessel, the dialogue rings with an unlikely blend of fascination and farce. The actual narrative takes a major hit in the third act, as Walker shows a minimal knack for resolving his story’s threads, but situationally, his workplace comedy is urgent, persuasive, and funny, transcending what was obviously a very meager budget. It makes especially potent use of the dreaded, anonymous office space, a bone-dry arena that’s as suffocatingly tense as it is pregnant with comic potential. Aside from Mabius, whose wan performance as the straight man is wholly dispensable, the film’s talented troupe members make a convincing, bizarro staff, exploiting the airless setting with continuous laugh-out-loud results. And front and center, of course, is one faithfully avid comedienne, whose mercurial performance is a picture of multi-tasking.