Thursday, November 15, 2012

A fine ensemble lights up Michael Walker's smart workplace dramedy, PRICE CHECK

What an interesting -- in so many ways -- new movie is  PRICE CHECK, the comedy-drama of workplace politics and preoccupations written (with an eye toward the inevitable compromises we make on our rise to success) and directed (quite competently) by sophomore full-lengther Michael Walker. That title, for instance: Fast, smart and to the point, it's a phrase we often use while trolling the aisles of our local supermarket. It has another, deeper meaning, too, which you'll probably roll around a bit in your mind once this surprising yet oddly quiet movie concludes.

The venue here actually is the supermarket, though (until the finale) we don't even enter one. Everything here concerns the corporate, backstage as it were, world where all the decisions are made. This is doubly interesting because we soon note that this corporate world appears awfully similar from business to business; whatever the end product being sold, the behavior on view seems nearly the same. Mr. Walker (shown at left), who over a decade ago gave us his first film, the odd thriller Chasing Sleep, has cast this one (with the help of Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee and Allison Estrin) quite well, bringing together a lively, believable group of actors that make up an excellent ensemble, with three of these most prominent.

Indie queen Parker Posey, above, who has hung on that title better and longer (pace Brit Marling) than many of us would have imagined possible, has the lead role and offers one of her best performances as the extraordinarily driven, not-quite-young woman who is given the job of turning an unprofitable supermarket located in the Long Island hinterlands into a winner. Ms Posey is -- as usual -- in your face, funny, smart and real.

Matching Posey extraordinarily well, by playing as quiet and close-to-the-vest as she is broad and (seemingly) open, is Eric Mabius, an actor who gets better as he gets older. Mabius has an unusual ability to look and act like an everyman, while holding back just enough to remain both mysterious and sexy without appearing to push either quality in the least.

The third wheel here is Annie Parisse (above, right) as the Mabius character's wife. Thanks to the combo of her fine performance and Walker's excellent screenplay and dialog, she, too, come across as multi-dimensional and dauntingly real. Everyone here, full of good points and not-so-good ones, acts at some point as both hero and villain. Mostly though, they -- as do the rest of the ensemble of characters -- just want to get ahead and somehow live a comfortable life. Like most of us in the 99 per cent.

Also in the cast are actors as disparate as Edward Herrmann and Cheyenne Jackson (above, center), both doing their usual fine job. The film is timely, all right, coming as it does in the midst of our continuing economic crisis, and its look at the workplace, below, seems nicely on-target, quirky yet real. But Price Check is also a quietly thoughtful movie about the unfortunate necessity for compromise (about so many things) -- and what this does to our lives and to those closest to us.

The movie, running 92 minutes and from IFC Films, has been playing via VOD for the past month and will open theatrically in a limited release tomorrow, Friday, November 16, here in New York City at the IFC Center, and next Friday, November 23, at the Laemmle NoHo 7 in the Los Angeles area.

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