Smoking isn't supposed to look this cool.French actress Audrey Tatou (Amelie), with a personality as effervescent as a flute of Taittinger champagne, takes us on an escapade along the French Riviera in the romantic comedy, Priceless. As Irene, she teaches a naïve bartender, as well as the audience, the finer points of seduction while digging for gold in the form of wealthy single men. She likes expensive things and knows how to get rich, older men to buy them for her; but she pays a high personal price for her hedonistic habits.
The film opens with a witty sequence involving a lowly hotel bartender/valet walking dogs at an elite seaside resort for wealthy patrons who speak to their dogs as if they're spoiled children. Jean (Gad Elmaleh, The Valet) serves the every whim of these mavens who, from evidence of their overly tanned skin which is as dark and wrinkled as brown paper bags, seem to have spent most of their lives basking on chaise lounges.
Fate and risk intertwine late that night in the hotel bar, allowing Jean to spend the night with-and subsequently fall for-the irresistible Irene, who has become bored with her older benefactor/boyfriend. Irene, having mistaken Jean for a potential suitor, soon discovers that he's an imposter, and even worse, a hotel employee. She sets out to teach him a lesson and, unsuccessfully, shake him off. What she thinks is most important in life is exactly what he is willing to give up. Even though we can predict the outcome with a high degree of probability, director Pierre Salvador ensures that what happens along the way surprises and entertains.
One might wonder what could possibly be the redeeming qualities of a story about wealth, greed and a kept woman on the make. First off, we get to spend a couple of weeks (condensed into 140 minutes) wining, dining and motoring through Nice and Monte Carlo, much like Irene. Secondly, we are humorously reminded that unbridled hedonism actually has its price. Lastly, while the seemingly soulless Irene sacrifices love for couture gowns, foie gras and the assurance of a guaranteed future income, the timid, unspoiled and unsophisticated Jean-in direct contrast-sacrifices all his worldly goods for love, and in doing so demonstrates the value of taking risks. He recognizes something in Irene that we can't and that she doesn't even see herself yet.
Meanwhile, Irene teaches Jean the art of seduction, with the desired result of snagging his own rich patroness. This is where the acting abilities of the two main characters sparkle just as brightly as the diamonds dripping from Irene's ears. What follows is a series of funny lessons in the allure of the "unfinished sentence," meant to beguile and seduce the potential benefactor: I feel...I wish...I would love to....Such lines become a sort of refrain throughout the film, and we-now "in the know"-laugh in recognition of them.
Although this movie has been frequently compared to Breakfast at Tiffany's, I found in it a resemblance to the witty 1988 comedy, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, also filmed on the French Riviera. And, as in Scoundrels, we wind up rooting for the creatively deceptive "have nots."
The film does drag in a few places and probably could have been condensed by at least 10 minutes; but the gorgeous cinematography, and Camille Bazbaz's saucy score (so good that I can't wait to look for the soundtrack) mostly keep the audience enthralled through the slow parts. If I were to alter this film in any way, I would probably... I might consider... I would love to...
Starring: Audrey Tatou and Gad Elmaleh. Directed by Pierre Salvator.
PG-13. French with English subtitles.