For an actor to score a classic role can be a double-sided pillow. She enjoys and suffers the twin effects of nostalgic endearment and the bugaboo of typecasting. C’est la vie for Audrey Tautou, who-as they say-won her way into the hearts of millions in the title role of the free-spirited and enchantingly loony Amelie, against which her other roles must now by judged or compared, at least until she racks up another classic.
“Classic” is hardly what one would call Priceless, and odd and uneven piece of comedic French froth, which sends out mixed thematic signals while titillating us along the way with sex and gags. Set in the lavish digs of high-end hotels, the story celebrates the connivances of two upper-crust wannabes teaching each other the fine points of golddigging. As Irene, Tautou plays a kind of anti-Amelie (or perhaps her more cynical twin sister). She is a calculating young seductress of moneyed men who floats between pampered situations and the gilded way stations of five-star hotels. She gets mixed up with Jean (Gad Elmaleh), a hotel employee she mistakes for a swank guest. He falls in love with her, is bled financially dry as part of her scheme, and ends up a student of her low-down ways. Suddenly, he’s just a gigolo.
On some level, the film pretends to be a study in class struggle and the cold absurdity of social strata, but it loses whatever moral or satirical compass might have been intended. Priceless ends up wallowing in lust, more for lucre and affluent trappings than mere carnal pleasure. Of course, that theme is as old as celluloid, but generally it is kept carefully in balance with the inherent goodness of the protagonist. Here, the money lust is naked and its effect on our heroes’ souls grows awfully tedious and creepy as the romp proceeds.
Thankfully, director and cowriter Pierre Salvadori treats us to a sufficient flow of comic pratfalls and near misses, mixed identity shticks, and other funny stunts so that our creepy meter is staved off by hilarity-for at least part of the ride. In other words, go for the French-flavored laughs. Deeper analysis may spoil your evening.