Movie Information

The Story: A lady of easy virtue loses her sugar daddy through an indiscretion with a hotel barman and sets out in search of a new source of income -- with the barman in close pursuit. The Lowdown: Wit, style and charm -- along with the irresistible Audrey Tautou and the likable Gad Elmaleh -- define this lightweight but very agreeable French comedy.
Genre: Cynical Romantic Comedy
Director: Pierre Salvadori (After You ...)
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Marie-Christine Adam, Vernon Dobtcheff, Jacques Spiesser
Rated: PG-13

I can’t say it came as a great shock when I read director and cowriter Pierre Salvadori’s remark, “The first movie that ever struck me was a comedy—Heaven Can Wait (1943)—which, for me, was watching the perfect movie,” in the press notes for his Priceless (2006), a slightly cynical romantic comedy that opens locally this Friday. There’s a similarity between Ernst Lubitsch’s classic comedy and Salvadori’s film, but there’s more Lubitsch to Priceless than that one Lubitsch film.

Priceless may up the ante of the Lubitschian blend of cynicism and sentiment: Lubitsch never made a movie where the heroine and, later, the hero both use their bodies and powers of seduction for personal gain and advancement. He did, however, spend a considerable amount of his screen career winking at notions of sexual morality—ranging from adultery to snagging a rich husband to a ménage à trois. Priceless uses a classic-comedy premise—mistaken identity—and trades on the personalities and good looks of its players in luxurious settings.

In the case of Priceless, we have the gold-digging Irène (the luminous Audrey Tautou) stepping out on her sleeping elderly boyfriend for some late-night fun in the hotel bar. There, she mistakes bartender Jean (Gad Elmaleh, The Valet) for a guest—and he plays along, finally spiriting her away to the unoccupied royal suite. It’s a momentary indiscretion that comes home to roost a year later when they bump into each other again and Jean resumes his masquerade, leading to the couple’s discovery and the elderly boyfriend Jacques (Vernon Dobtcheff, Before Sunset) breaking off his engagement to Irène—and reclaiming her engagement ring.

When Irène discovers that Jean is a hotel employee and not a wealthy catch, she heads off to Nice—armed with her little book of potential victims—in hopes of a new sugar daddy. What she doesn’t count on is Jean—feeling guilty and just a little love struck—following. No sooner has she set up a possible mark than Jean queers the deal by hanging around, so Irène punishes him by accepting his advances—very expensively. Soon Irène has hooked up with another prospect, Gilles (Jacques Spiesser, My Best Friend), and Jean is broke and facing arrest over the hotel bill. Enter the no-longer-young Madeleine (Marie-Christine Adam, Le Divorce), who pays Jean’s debts and moves him into her rooms.

The arrangement might be agreeable, but Jean needs coaching from Irène in order to understand how these things work to the kept man’s—or woman’s—best advantage. Soon the pupil is outmaneuvering his teacher—as attested to by 30,000-euros worth of wristwatch. Of course, more is happening than that, and yes, it’s exactly what you think: Right down to a final shot you can probably predict from the distance of at least 20 minutes. (Well, after all, the ending might be borrowed from Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise (1932) or Design for Living (1933).) But Priceless doesn’t always get where it’s going the way you expect, and even if it did, it’s done with such class, charm and grace that it wouldn’t matter all that much.

While Priceless stands quite on its own as a breath of champagne on a warm summer night, it’s hard not to compare it to what has been passing of late as romantic comedy—things like Made of Honor and Sex and the City—and the comparison does the Hollywood product no favors. While Priceless is cheerfully amoral, it’s also genuinely romantic. Scratch its veneer of cynicism, and you’ll find something warm and sentimental underneath. (The only English-language effort of recent vintage is the British Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.) Scratch the Hollywood product, and you’ll find only more cynicism. That—along with two genuinely appealing lead performers and real style in the direction—makes all the difference. It’s also the reason to beat a path to this marvelous confection. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, including nudity.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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8 thoughts on “Priceless

  1. Ken Hanke

    Sounds good. You’ve never steered me wrong.

    Thank you. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with this one.

  2. t

    Why do you write movie reviews? If it is to describe the movie, you do a great job. If it is to help us decide whether we’d like to see the movie, you should put a notice at the top of your reviews: Spoiler alert: The following review will tell you most of the plot twists and turns and thereby ruin the suspense as you watch the story unfold.

    Can’t you tell us the basics without revealing darn near the entire plot?

    Also, I suppose it is old fashioned to inform the reader if there are subtitles or dubbing on foreign films, but it helps to know this detail before the movie starts.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Can’t you tell us the basics without revealing darn near the entire plot?

    Well, “t,” I’d hardly call that the entire plot, but then I’d hardly call this a plot-driven film. I also don’t know of a single review of this movie that doesn’t tell you that much of the plot. This is one of those “you can’t please everybody things,” since half the time when I get a complaint it’s that I didn’t tell enough of the story.

    Also, I suppose it is old fashioned to inform the reader if there are subtitles or dubbing on foreign films, but it helps to know this detail before the movie starts.

    Yes, I think it might be old-fashioned because I haven’t encountered a single dubbed foreign language film in eight years of reviewing on a weekly basis. Or are you simply wanting to be alerted to the fact that a film made by Pierre Salvadori that stars Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Marie-Christine Adam, Vernon Dobtcheff, and Jacques Spiesser that’s set in Nice and is playing at the Fine Arts isn’t in English? I just assumed — especially from a review that compares the film to the “Hollywood product” — you could figure that out.

  4. tatuaje

    Audrey Tautou….ahhhh *swoons*

    I’d even see an Adam Sandler flick if she had a role…

  5. Steve Lee

    Hi Ken,

    We’re here in Wilmington, and we’ve had a great time reading your reviews. It started with “The List,” a terrible movie; we were so gratified to read your review of it!

    Do you have a feed or something that sends out your reviews? We like your sensibilities!

    Steve and Rebecca in Wilmington

  6. Ken Hanke

    Thanks. I don’t have anything that sends out my reviews — I mean, of course, apart from them being up on this site every Wednesday. I’m kind of techno-challenged, I admit, but I’m not sure how (or if) there’d be some way of setting up a specific subscriber list.

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