Only the French could make gold-digging look so classy. Amidst diamond-studded watches and glimmering gowns, Audrey Tautou is “Priceless” as an unapologetic social-climbing seductress in this charmingly frivolous film directed by Pierre Salvadori.
Irene (Tautou) works hard for her money and haute couture. It’s no exaggeration to say she elevates gold-digging to an art form. But, at the start of “Priceless,” it seems as though Irene might be able to give up her scheming ways for good — she’s about to be married to the man of her dreams, a.k.a., a fantastically rich old guy. Alas, she gets a little put out when her fiancé falls asleep too early on her birthday, and — after too many umbrella-adorned drinks — she ends up in the bed of Jean, who she believes to be a wealthy hotel guest. Too bad Jean is a humble, mild-mannered bartender, and too bad she doesn’t realize this until her fiancé figures it all out. Needless to say, her heart isn’t all that broken, but her credit card sure is.
Now that Irene must start all over again, she heads to (where else?) the Cote D’Azur in hopes of picking up another rich man with whom she can trade sex for cash. Unfortunately, Jean is foolishly smitten and he follows her all the way to Monaco to apologize for his lie. The only way for him to spend time with Irene is to buy it, and he does, until he has lost every penny to his name (and then some). Not being able to pay his hotel bill, he unexpectedly finds himself in the same position as Irene when a blonde cougar offers her room to him. Irene, thoroughly impressed, takes Jean under her wing and shows him the rules of being a kept man. Jean starts off a little shaky — he receives dumbbells and a few blue shirts — but soon catches on with Irene’s help. Her first piece of advice? Start sentences, but don’t finish them… and pout. This gets him a $30,000 watch. Of course, things begin to get a little more complicated when Irene starts to fall for Jean and a game of musical beds ensues.
Audrey Tautou is as alluring as she was in “Amelie,” though this time she sheds her childlike innocence in favor of jutting necklines and stiletto heels. Irene is entirely unapologetic throughout, however, and it’s difficult not to sympathize with the waif, who scarfs down every meal as if it’s her last. She never pretends to be anything but exactly what she is — a beautiful woman interested only in designer price tags and lavish beach side hotels.
Jean is the perfect antithesis to Irene’s one-track mind. Gad Elmaleh, who played the similar role of the not-so-good-looking guy who charms the beautiful girl in “The Valet,” manages to be both endearing and acutely aware of the situation he has gotten himself into. However, even while Jean succumbs to his newly comfortable lifestyle, it’s clear the spoils of it are a distant second to his desire for Irene. He might not be cute, but he’s irresistible to Irene and to us.
The script is buoyant, but this isn’t groundbreaking romantic comedy. There is (of course) a happy ending implying that love surpasses materialism, but it’s ultimately fulfilling to see Tautou as a mature and in-charge heroine. “Priceless” is entertaining and, at times, hilarious, even while showing us the darker side of relationships centering around sex and money. If that’s not enough, who knows, you might just learn a thing or two about the art of seduction from Irene.