LITTLE ROCK Priceless is slight and sweet as a meringue, an insubstantial and surprisingly chaste French sex farce set on the Riviera. It's cute, full of sunshine and enjoyably free of American-style prudery.
It gives us the pleasant spectacle of a slimmed-down Audrey Tautou as Irene, an expert, restless gold digger who mistakes Jean, a common bartender (Gad Elmaleh), for her latest mark.
It doesn't take her long to realize her mistake and vengefully bleed him dry for wasting her time - he cashes in his retirement account to take her to dinner and spends his last Euro for 10 more seconds of her time, gazing deeply into her mink-brown eyes.
Some directors might make a movie of the mistaken identity shtick, but for Pierre Salvadori (Apres Vous), who co-wrote the film with Benoit Graffi n, it's only the prelude to a genuinely amusing idea. While Jean is so smitten with Irene that he continues to contend for her affection even after he's unmasked as a penniless (and now unemployed) fool, he attracts the attention of Madeline (Marie-Christine Adam), a handsome older woman who's willing to support Jean in exchange for his company.
The rapacious Irene marks his progress and - at fi rst because his ineptness offends her sense of professionalism - begins to school him in the ways of the kept: Be mysterious. Develop a mid-distant stare. Speak only unfi nished sentences.
Soon Irene and Jean are meeting regularly, co-conspirators on their way to becoming genuine friends.
She's alternately proud and jealous of her protege, who never wavers in his servile devotion to her.
There's no real mystery to where the story is going, and most of the dramatic tension is supplied by Tautou's precariously clinging dresses, but Salvadori supplies us with lots of pretty pictures of Nice and Monte Carlo.
Elmaleh (The Valet) is one of those actors whom one either takes to or doesn't. He seems closer to Roberto Benigni than Buster Keaton or Harry Langdon, but his presence isn't a deal-breaker.
Though the film has drawn comparisons to Breakfast at Tiffany's, largely because of the superficial resemblance of Tautou's onscreen persona to that of Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly, a more on-point reference might be Garry Marshall's Pretty Woman, which gives us Julia Roberts as a kind of hooker princess.
Like that movie, Priceless is hardly a classic, but Salvadori glibly (and probably wisely) glides over any dirty pretty realism about the nature of sexual careerism, opting instead for a slightly racy fairy tale.
MovieStyle, Pages 41 on 06/13/2008