Priceless (Hors de prix)
There hasn't been a big-screen romantic comedy as clever, sexy, fun, and downright wonderful as Priceless in eons. This French farce is an instant classic.
Gorgeous Irène (the extraordinary Audrey Tautou) loves her life as the girlfriend of an ultra-wealthy, much-older man (Vernon Dobtcheff). The clothes, the shoes, the food, the five-star hotels! But he gets drunk and passes out on the night of her birthday, and so late that night she heads to the hotel bar for some company. What she finds is an empty bar--no barman on duty--and an oddly handsome young man (Gad Elmaleh) in a tuxedo, asleep on one of the lounge's couches. We know from earlier sequences that he is the barman, but one look at Irène and Jean decides, for that night at least, to pretend that he is a multimillionaire. That deception leads to a romantic one-night stand and Irène leaves the next morning. Cut to one year later, she returns to the hotel, now the fiancée of the old man, dripping in diamonds and living the life she has always believed is her destiny (despite her humble beginnings). When she and Jean rekindle for another fling, all is lost when her fiancé discovers her infidelity. And so the comedy really begins, as Jean tries to take his place, only to find that her style of living drains his bank account almost immediately. The resulting lengths he goes to in order to win her love creates a series of comedic (and sometimes poignant) moments that will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear by the time the credits roll.
How can you not adore Audrey Tautou? Forget her foray into Hollywood in The Da Vinci Code, where she simply played the sidekick to Tom Hanks' leading man; think instead of Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, in which her full talents have already been showcased. In Priceless, writer-director Pierre Salvadori admits he wrote the role of Irène with her in mind, and it is a perfect fit. As Irène she is so sexy, so adorable, so filled with life, and yet riddled with the fear of not having money that she will do just about anything to have it, that she almost instantly grabs hold of your heart. No matter what she does, how badly she treats Jean when she discovers that he is poor, you cannot help but be on her side, hoping she is able to attain the wealth she so desperately desires. Her ability to show the inner depths of her emotions through just her eyes is extraordinary; this is a performance that deserves numerous accolades. Equal to the task of playing opposite her is Gad Elmaleh, an actor whose face is not exactly handsome, yet is so appealing that we quickly fall for him as well. He struggles to find a way to keep Irène close, despite not having the millions he needs to afford her. The duo creates a winning combination that will make you believe that love can actually win out, even in the most seemingly impossible situations.
Director Pierre Salvadori readily admits that his deft touch with screwball comedy comes from his love of the films of Hollywood great Ernst Lubitsch, the master of the genre (think Ninotchka, To Be or Not to Be, The Shop Around the Corner, Heaven Can Wait). Happily, Salvadori has succeeded admirably in creating a film worthy of the comparison. With no sentimentality but plenty of romance, he creates a world where his characters change, evolve, and eventually allow their hearts to lead the way. It is the rare filmmaker who is able to create classics of this genre, for often the stories are either too predictable--we always know from the start, for example, that the leads in any romantic comedy will end up together but it is the journey to get there that makes or breaks a film. Or perhaps the romantic comedy is too sappy and corny for our hearts to really believe in the story. Priceless is neither. Instead, it is a rollicking, funny, and even poignant (for just a moment) comedy that will make you remember the fun you had while watching it. In other words, Priceless is a quintessentially great romantic comedy and not to be missed.
Hollywood.com rated this film 4 stars.