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First Look Pictures // R // November 18, 2008
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 25, 2008 | E-mail the Author
Irène (Audrey Tautou)
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has settled into a life of lazing around five-star resorts, being shuttled around from one impossibly luxurious European locale to the next, and frittering away thousands upon thousands of dollars on daily shopping sprees. She already has an aging lover (Vernon Dobtcheff) footing the bill for her lavish tastes, but Irène is the sort of seasoned gold digger who doesn't see the point in settle for being doted on by a millionaire when a mark worth tens of millions may be whiling away the night in the hotel bar. Irène thinks she may have stumbled upon her next conquest, unaware that she's actually seducing an awkward, overworked bartender (Gad Elmaleh). They share one steamy night of champagne cocktails and a spin in silk sheets before Irène's spirited off to another resort. Jean settles back into the mundane life of a resort employee, but he has another stab at romance when Irène returns -- still hanging off the arm of her seventy-something lover -- for her birthday a year later. Irène and Jean are caught rekindling that spark; she loses her meal ticket, and he's out a job. Jean empties out his life's savings to try to keep up with Irène's lifestyle, but she wipes out every last cent he has to his name in less than a day.

Jean nearly has the police sicced on him when he can't cover the bill at his hotel room, but he's rescued by an older, wealthy widow (Marie-Christine Adam) and somewhat reluctantly settles into the life of a pampered lover himself. Of course, Jean's much too nice a guy to really take advantage. Intrigued, Irène steps in as a sort of gold digging mentor, tutoring him on the fine art of seduction and manipulation. It works, at least to a point: the difference is that Madeleine has been down this road enough to spot these sorts of games, and Jean is uncomfortable enough being a kept man that he's willing to step away from it all. Irène and Jean are both juggling marks with multimillion dollar bank accounts, but...hey, Priceless is a romantic comedy at the end of the day, so they're stuck struggling with their own budding romance in the middle of it all.

I'm completely
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charmed by Priceless. An American romcom would never try to slink by with this sort of cynical sensibility, but writers Benoît Graffin and Pierre Salvadori thankfully don't take a stab at justifying just how loathsome Irène is for so much of the movie. There are no weepy backstories or long, rambling monologues -- she just likes being pampered, and she's all for mutual exploitation. If the men in her life are willing to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to cater to her every whim, she figures she might as well go ahead and give them at least some of what they want.

This is an especially wonderful performance by Audrey Tautou. Very subtle facial expressions show the tinge of guilt she feels in bankrupting Jean during their second rendezvous, and her movements and mannerisms convey that uneasy balance of confidence and discomfort that goes with being a kept woman. She's talented enough at this game to string along her marks and maintain the upper hand, but even with a closetful of Dolce & Gabbana, Irène never actually owns anything. It can all evaporate with a single wrong misstep, leaving her clawing her way back up from nothing with her next mark. Even with as repulsive as Irène can be in the early stretches of the film, there's a sort of impishness to her as well, leaving her feeling more like a mischievous kid exploiting a lucrative opportunity than a high-priced hooker. That makes the transition to Irène's intrigue and excitement about Jean stepping into the game much more seamless. Tautou is consistently incandescent on-screen, striking the same balance of being adorable and alluring as Audrey Hepburn so many decades before her.

Gad Elmaleh is an enormous talent as
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well, painting Jean as an awkward doormat who gradually gains enough self-confidence to grab hold onto what he wants. Jean's submissiveness is so deeply ingrained that even after being waited on hand and foot by a millionaire, he still instinctively turns his head and stands whenever he hears "s'il vous plaît" in a posh restaurant.

Sweet, sultry, and breathlessly funny, Priceless is an endlessly charming romantic comedy and quite possibly the best the genre has to offer on Blu-ray as I write this. I'd love to be closing this part of the review with an extremely enthusiastic recommendation, but I have to admit to feeling let down by this Blu-ray disc's lackluster high definition presentation, and its extras are in their original French and inexplicably not subtitled at all. A better showing on Blu-ray would've come very highly recommended, but I reluctantly have to frown and say Rent It instead.

I have to admit to being extremely disappointed by the way Priceless looks on Blu-ray. The scope image is saddled with such a soft, smeared appearance that it looks unsettlingly like an upconverted DVD. Fine detail is poor, patches of white are blown out, black levels tend to be anemic and are unusually noisy to boot, and edge haloes could be spotted frequently. The 1080p video as a whole suffers from an overprocessed, overly digital look, lacking the natural warmth of film. This is one of the most lackluster Blu-ray discs I've reviewed over the past couple of years.

Like all of
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First Look's recent releases on Blu-ray, Priceless boasts a 24-bit Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. This is a quiet movie -- driven so much by brilliantly subtle facial expressions and reams of clever dialogue -- that it doesn't lend itself to the sort of sonic theatrics that usually spring to mind on this format. Even for a romantic comedy, though, its sound design is unusually restrained. This is essentially a stereo track that periodically bleeds into the surrounds. The French dialogue is crisp and clean, and the music is warm and full-bodied, but the mix rarely strays from the front speakers. The surrounds are reserved for light ambiance: chirping crickets, the clink of silverware against plates in a parade of five-star restaurants, and the reverb of the songs scattered throughout the film. Bass response is expectedly modest given the nature of this material. This is a very tame soundtrack, but at least as far as the lossless audio is concerned, it's free of any technical missteps.

It's somewhat annoying that the only English subtitle stream is captioned for the deaf and hard of hearing, though. This means random sound effects are captioned as well -- "[TV off]" and "[elevator dings]", for instance -- although at least those are fairly rare. The lyrics in music sung in English are subtitled too. A second stream only captioning French text and dialogue really ought to have been offered. Owners of constant image height projection rigs ought to be happy to hear that the subtitles aren't rendered in the letterboxing bars, though.

Priceless' other audio options include a stereo track and Spanish subtitles.

This Blu-ray release of
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Priceless features a couple of extras that didn't find their way onto the DVD, although it's clear even with just a passing glance why they didn't make the cut there. Both the outtakes and the reel of deleted and extended scenes are in French, and none of this footage has been subtitled. Hardly speaking a word of French myself, this does make the extras particularly tough to appreciate. Much of the humor in the five minute outtake reel is lost in translation. There are more than half an hour of deleted and extended scenes, including Jean hurredly refilling a bottle in the minibar, a pampered trip to the spa, an alternate title sequence, and Irène being lavished with her own ridiculously expensive new watch. These scenes don't appear to be in any particular order, and intriguingly, they were trimmed early enough in the process that the bluescreen backdrops in the hotel rooms are still in place. Despite being exclusive to this Blu-ray release on these shores, none of this material is in high definition. The quality's extremely rough, letterboxed in standard definition and non-anamorphic widescreen.

A set of trailers, including one for Priceless, rounds out the extras.

The Final Word
As charmed as I am by this impishly sultry romantic comedy, Priceless' lackluster high definition presentation makes this Blu-ray disc difficult to recommend as enthusiastically as I'd like. Rent It.
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