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For at least a few minutes of Priceless, another bit of froth from Après Vous… writer-director Pierre Salvadori, you will hate Audrey Tautou. Not because she plays a veritable Pikachu with boobs like she did in her breakout movie, 2001’s precious Amélie. It’s just the opposite: Tautou’s Irène, in her most unflattering moments, can best be described as a bitch if you’re being polite and a whore if you’re not. Gone is the pixie haircut and the gamine charm of her retro namesake, Audrey Hepburn, even though the film is being touted as a reimagining of that star’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Here, Tautou is sultry and calculating, a gold digger who has no qualms about her lifestyle (and neither does the script, co-written by Salvadori’s Après Vous… collaborator, Benoît Graffin). She coos and is affectionate with any man, frequently men much older than she, who can keep her in the lavish lifestyle to which she has become accustomed. But pity the fool who trips her plans, in this case Jean (Gad Elmaleh), a hangdog employee at the French resort where Irène’s beau takes her on her birthday. One night, the old sop gets loaded while she takes her time prettying herself, so she goes to the deserted hotel bar to celebrate alone. There she meets Jean, whom she mistakes for a rich guest and ends up in bed with—for two birthdays in a row, until her sugar daddy finds out and dumps her.
Unlike Salvadori’s earlier film, the plot of Priceless mercifully isn’t entirely hinged on deception. Irène does find out about Jean’s working-class status, but that’s no spoiler—the revelation happens early, and the now-unpredictable story builds from there. After their blowup, Irène, left nearly penniless and with only a small suitcase and her well-annotated black book, starts working the phone to reconnect with past potentials. Jean follows her to apologize, and that’s when Irène gets ugly, punishing him by insisting he take her to fancy restaurants and buy her clothes if he dare stay within her sight, a scowl on her face more often than her usual fake smile.
Again, though, this is a brief turn of events, and Irène gets considerably more likable after she latches onto another chump while Jean, shocked as anyone, finds himself in a situation not unlike Irène’s; this invites her to teach Jean her tricks, so to speak, and allows the character’s wit and Tautou’s natural appeal to finally let loose. (And, to be fair, the actress plays a very funny drunk, tottering slightly and grinning idiotically.) The film itself, meanwhile, was a winner all along, largely due to Elmaleh’s comic brilliance—Jean makes split-second personality changes from service schlep to suave high roller whenever he unexpectedly sees Irène, and he automatically grabs someone’s bags when a clerk at a different hotel claps for a bellman. The scene in which Jean is caught waiting tables—quickly ditching his bow tie, affecting a GQ stance, and giving you’re-the-man finger-snaps to customers trying to get his attention—is alone enough to make Irène’s occasional unpleasantness and the script’s eventual romantic-comedy pitfalls forgivable.