Priceless (2006) / Comedy-Romance
aka Hors de Prix

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for brief nudity, sexuality, and language
Running time: 91 min

Cast: Gad Elmaleh, Audrey Tautou, Marie-Christine Adam, Vernon Dobtcheff, Jacques Spiesser, Annelise Hesme
Director: Pierre Salvadori

Screenplay: Benoit Graffin, Pierre Salvadori

Career gold digger Irene (Tautou, The Da Vinci Code) is set to finally marry for money when she has a premarital tryst with Jean (Elmaleh, The Valet), a French Riviera hotel assistant filling in as a bartender that she mistakenly takes for a well-to-do bachelor.  Her sugar daddy (Dobtcheff, Before Sunset) catches on and dumps her, leaving her without ready means, so she makes a play for Jean only to discover he is without resources.  However, Jean is smitten, so he tries valiantly to gain Irene's attention again, rebuked time and again, but making it impossible for her to do her business.  She makes a play to finally rid him from her life, allowing him to wine and dine her in the opulent fashion she seeks, bleeding him dry with her penchant for expensive dinners and lavish gifts galore.  Jean finds himself in a hole, but a last-minute save puts him in her shoes, as a wealthy widow soon sees him as a gigolo with potential husband material, though he still has eyes for Irene.

A satisfying dessert film, sumptuously presented with humor, romance, and decadent displays of wealth, Priceless playfully gives us another view of the rich and famous who spend a great deal of time on the French Riviera.  Elderly millionaires always seem to have young and beautiful ladies on their arm, a symbiotic relationship whereby men with means can have their trophy to show off to others and provide ample companionship, while the good-looking opportunists can have the chance to be set up for a while, potentially for life, never having to worry about money or means again.  

Despite the rather unseemly nature of the main characters, who repeatedly lie and connive to get their way, including to each other, at no time do they ever lose their ability to charm us.  If we dislike the main characters, the film would fall apart, so credit Elmaleh and Tautou for consistently providing the sympathetic portrayals necessary to allow us to see beyond the superficial nature of their schemes to understand what they do and the reasons why.  The story asks for a few liberties in terms of conveniences and contrivances to keep the wafer-thin plot afloat, but director and co-writer Salvadori (Apres Vous) imbues the tone with a mirth and whimsy to allow us to accept a make-or-break plot where fortunes can be turned on a scene-by-scene basis.

Audrey Tautou has sometimes been compared with that other famous Audrey (Hepburn), and certainly fans of Breakfast at Tiffany's will see more than a passing similarity.  While Tautou isn't as universally appealing as her predecessor in namesake, she does add a sexiness to her character that allows us to believe she could be very successful in her profession, while also retaining that vulnerability to allow us to understand how a naive but genuinely good person like Jean could fall for her as well, even when she mistreats him (for his own good, she thinks).  However, the film ultimately rests on our ability to relate to Jean, and with a very appealing performance by Moroccan comedian Gad Elmaleh, there isn't a moment when we aren't rooting for him, despite his severe infatuation with a woman so undeserving of his affection.

Though done with obvious French sensibilities, there is a traditional Hollywood flavor that runs throughout Priceless, particularly in its ending, that should meet will for those who typically eschew subtitled foreign affairs.  If you like glamorous confections that never take time to analyze the true ills of its characters' vices, such as Pretty Woman, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and a dash of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Priceless is worth the price of admission for an easy, breezy romantic romp that's as easy on the spirit as it is on the eyes.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2008 Vince Leo