Movie News & Reviews

Romance, at a price

While the movie is titled "Priceless," perhaps the more definitive title should be "Anybody Can Be Bought."

That's what a poor schnook named Jean (Gad Elmaleh) realizes in this movie. A feeble bartender (and part-time dog walker) for an uber-swanky beachside hotel, he falls head over heels for a professional gold digger (Audrey Tautou), who mistakes our boy for a vacationing high roller.

Irene, shall we say, rocks Jean's working-class world one evening, which costs her a one-way ticket to easy street when a loaded old suitor (Vernon Dobtcheff) finds out, breaks off his engagement to her and shuts her off. Of course, this is music to the ears of Jean, who is smitten with her to the point where he can't stop following Irene around.

Hoping he'd get the message that she's too high-maintenance for him, she briefly, coldly bilks him for everything he's got, spending lavishly on the boy's increasingly dwindling dime. With a hotel bill he can't pay and no money to his name, salvation comes when a cougarish dame (Marie Christine-Adam) decides to make him her kept man.

From then on, "Priceless" becomes an oddly optimistic French farce about the comfortableness of selling one's body -- and soul, of course -- when things get rough. Once Jean gets in the gigolo game, Irene (who now sees him as an "equal") gives him pointers on how to properly seduce his sugar mama. Irene also becomes strangely drawn to this new-and-improved Jean. (So, lemme see if I have this straight: The only way a gold digger can fall in love with you is if you become a gold digger just like her?)

"Priceless" is the sort of light-hearted yet irksome foreign comedy that Hollywood remakes in a heartbeat. (Why do I get this horrible feeling that Ashton and Cameron will follow up their "What Happens in Vegas" success by reteaming to star in this?) Believe it or not, there is something of a Grand Statement being made amid all the tricking and treating. Director Pierre Salvadori ("Apres Vous"), along with screenwriter Benoit Graffin, has said he was going for a Lubitsch-style class satire with this flick, with the have-nots (Jean and Irene) conspiring to get what they need from their authoritative haves. (It's probably the only movie you'll see this year where a Euro coin is used as a catalyst for the characters' redemption.)

Yeah, the slinky Tautou (I should mention, for all those people expecting her to be all lovable like she was in "Amelie," knock that out of your head right now) and the deadpan Elmaleh make a cute couple, even if they are playing characters who spend most of the movie putting their dignity and self-respect on the back burner. That's what may make the movie uneasy for audiences to sit through. With all the fancy, farcical frolicking "Priceless" indulges in, you're still watching a movie about prostitutes -- prostitutes in love, at that.

For all its rom-com rosiness, "Priceless" can't help but reveal the cynicism that basically fuels the story. Salvadori seems to imply that, when it comes to one's self-worth, everybody has a price.