Priceless (Hors de Prix)
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Pierre Salvadori’s “Priceless” is one of the cruelest romantic comedies I’ve seen. The hero is berated and exploited by the heroine, and can only win her heart by learning to be cruel and manipulative himself. And yet, it all turns into a sweet and funny film. I guess that’s the way in France. One can only have true love if pain, bitterness and ennui are mixed in.
Jean (Gad Elmaleh) is a capable yet struggling bellhop in one of Paris’ ritziest hotels. One night, thanks to a few white lies and a small case of mistaken identity, he is thought to be a well-to-do high-roller by professional gold-digger Iréne (Audrey Tatou, in full-on vamp mode, defying the impishness she acquired in “Amélie” and whatever it was she was trying to so in “The Da Vinci Code”). Iréne has no discernable job or home, and lives expressly off of the allowances middle-aged rich men she dates, so when she learns, about a third of the way through the film, that Jean is no a high-roller, but a common working man, she tosses him to the curb. Jean, tapping into every last bit of savings he has, tries to buy her back (he’s in wuv), but runs out of money very quickly, and is replaced by a real rich man.
But just then, Jean is himself targeted by a middle-aged rich woman (Marie-Christine Adam) and unwittingly becomes her sugarbaby. Iréne, knowing Jean is an amateur at the exploit-the-rich game, begins to give him advice on how to sulk and pine and squeeze every possible dollar out of his situation. When he becomes adept at emotionally manipulating his sugarmomma, Iréne becomes infatuated with him afresh.
Comedy has been mined from the exploitation and world of conning and manipulation before – just watch “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” – but there’s something downright mean-spirited about “Priceless.” First, in the way Iréne so callously treats poor Jean. And then in the way Jean, previously so unassuming and hard-working, becomes an expert at the very cruelty by which he was harmed. When it comes time for Jean to start breaking hearts in earnest, it hits a little too hard.
Luckily, this cruelty is offset by Iréne’s softening. She actually begins to grow a conscience over the course of the film, so by the time the lucky couple is untied in mutual love (and I’m not giving anything away by revealing that happens), it’s actually a moving and wonderful thing, rather than the bitter joining of two devious minds. The film’s final on-screen monetary purchase is a bold testament to how honest they have actually both become.