May 9, 2008
Audrey Tautou is all grown up. Gone is the flighty, naive, occasionally desperate young girl from Amélie, Dirty Pretty Things, and A Very Long Engagement. Now, seven years after she charmed American audiences as Ms. Poulain, we see a woman very much acting her age (31) in Hors de Prix (Priceless), a wickedly funny French send-up of Breakfast at Tiffany's. From its terrific opening title sequence to its fun-loving final scene, Priceless is an entertaining, if not totally fulfilling, story of two people scandalizing with the wrong people for all the wrong reasons (well, maybe that last bit is a matter of preference - I don't consider money a "right" reason). Written and directed by Pierre Salvadori (Après vous), Priceless also stars Moroccan Gad Elmaleh (The Valet), an accidental charmer who at different times reminded me of both Peter Sellers and Rowan Atkinson. As Jean, an overworked hotel employee on the French riviera, Elmaleh is pitch-perfect (should I regret skipping The Valet?). When Jean sees an opening to romance the manipulative gold-digger Irène (Tautou), he takes full advantage of his position - mixing drinks at the bar and bringing Irène up to the hotel's presidential suite. When she embarrassingly discovers that he's in fact the one who makes the beds and not the one who sleeps in them, she's off to the next potential sugar daddy. But Jean is already in too deep - he'll do whatever it takes to win her back, even tracking her down in Monte Carlo and, in a matter of hours, tragically spend his life savings, investments, and pension plan in order to show Irène that he can support her sickening habits. Alas, he can't, and she ditches him after he's spent his last Euro. What follows is the real meat of the film - Jean trying to beat Irène at her own game. There are some hilarious comedic moments (my favorite was Jean at breakfast for the first time with his new "friend"), but not enough to make Priceless as good as it could have been. Without knowing anything about these characters, it was difficult to buy into the film's second half, notably the deep lessons Irène is supposed to learn about life and love. Nonetheless, Priceless doesn't take itself too seriously, and actually maintains a decent sense of unpredictability throughout. If any part of what I've said appeals to you, it might be worth your while. Don't expect to feel good about humanity, but do expect to have a few laughs.