Gorgeous Irène (the extraordinary Audrey Tautou) loves her life as the girlfriend of an ultra-wealthy much-older man (Vernon Dobtcheff). The clothes the shoes the food the five-star hotels! But he gets drunk and passes out on the night of her birthday and so late that night she heads to the hotel bar for some company. What she finds is an empty bar--no barman on duty--and an oddly handsome young man (Gad Elmaleh) in a tuxedo asleep on one of the lounge’s couches. We know from earlier sequences that he is the barman but one look at Irène and Jean decides for that night at least to pretend that he is a multimillionaire. That deception leads to a romantic one-night stand and Irène leaves the next morning. Cut to one year later she returns to the hotel now the fiancée of the old man dripping in diamonds and living the life she has always believed is her destiny (despite her humble beginnings). When she and Jean rekindle for another fling all is lost when her fiancé discovers her infidelity. And so the comedy really begins as Jean tries to take his place only to find that her style of living drains his bank account almost immediately. The resulting lengths he goes to in order to win her love creates a series of comedic (and sometimes poignant) moments that will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear by the time the credits roll. How can you not adore Audrey Tautou? Forget her foray into Hollywood in The Da Vinci Code where she simply played the sidekick to Tom Hanks’ leading man; think instead of Amelie and A Very Long Engagement in which her full talents have already been showcased. In Priceless writer-director Pierre Salvadori admits he wrote the role of Irène with her in mind and it is a perfect fit. As Irène she is so sexy so adorable so filled with life and yet riddled with the fear of not having money that she will do just about anything to have it that she almost instantly grabs hold of your heart. No matter what she does how badly she treats Jean when she discovers that he is poor you cannot help but be on her side hoping she is able to attain the wealth she so desperately desires. Her ability to show the inner depths of her emotions through just her eyes is extraordinary; this is a performance that deserves numerous accolades. Equal to the task of playing opposite her is Gad Elmaleh an actor whose face is not exactly handsome yet is so appealing that we quickly fall for him as well. He struggles to find a way to keep Irène close despite not having the millions he needs to afford her. The duo creates a winning combination that will make you believe that love can actually win out even in the most seemingly impossible situations. Director Pierre Salvadori readily admits that his deft touch with screwball comedy comes from his love of the films of Hollywood great Ernst Lubitsch the master of the genre (think Ninotchka To Be or Not to Be The Shop Around the Corner Heaven Can Wait). Happily Salvadori has succeeded admirably in creating a film worthy of the comparison. With no sentimentality but plenty of romance he creates a world where his characters change evolve and eventually allow their hearts to lead the way. It is the rare filmmaker who is able to create classics of this genre for often the stories are either too predictable--we always know from the start for example that the leads in any romantic comedy will end up together but it is the journey to get there that makes or breaks a film. Or perhaps the romantic comedy is too sappy and corny for our hearts to really believe in the story. Priceless is neither. Instead it is a rollicking funny and even poignant (for just a moment) comedy that will make you remember the fun you had while watching it. In other words Priceless is a quintessentially great romantic comedy and not to be missed.
Nora Wilder (Parker Posey) is depressed. She's a lonely single thirty-something New Yorker whose job as the VIP facilitator of a chic boutique hotel is boring her to tears. Her mother (Gena Rowlands) is no help nor is her best friend Audrey (Drea de Matteo) who is actually having problems of her own in her seemingly perfect marriage to Mark (Tim Guinee). Nora is drinking too much dating cute but crappy men and still mourning the death of her father despite years having past since that sad event. When she meets Julian (Melvil Poupaud) a gorgeous Frenchman her life changes in a series of unexpected ways. With her role in Broken English Parker Posey reminds us of what a talented actress she is. Her portrayal of Nora is dead-on right down to the sadness in her eyes and the slump in her shoulders. You can just feel her need for love and emotional connection; it leaps off the screen right at you. Yet Posey is (as always) so likeable her innate personality shines through the sadness a fact that works perfectly with the character she plays. With her best-friend role Drea de Matteo shifts far away from her now iconic portrayal of Adriana in The Sopranos revealing a very different sort of person a privileged woman doubting her life choices—and she does it in a completely believable way. But it is Melvil Poupaud who is the big surprise here. The French actor has been in numerous films in his native country since he began his career at age 11 yet is still a face unfamiliar to American audiences. And what a face it is! The strikingly handsome 34-year-old is a revelation bringing a natural charm and ease to his performance that is sure to make every woman who sees the film dream about him that night. Director Zoe Cassavetes has movies in her blood. The daughter of legendary actor-director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands and the sister of Nick who directed The Notebook and Alpha Dog she has clearly felt the influence of her famous family. Broken English her first full-length feature film (which she also wrote) follows in the tradition of her late father's best work. He too wrote and directed personal films (Faces Husbands A Woman Under the Influence) which explored the intense human need for love without sentimentality or sappiness. With Broken English Zoe accomplishes the same difficult feat making her protagonist a very real woman whose life journey is at times sad yet ultimately uplifting--and always fascinating. In fact she has fashioned an excellent film which speaks to the human condition of countless single women in their 30s and beyond. Anyone who is one of those women should make sure to see this movie as should any man who would like to understand them just a little bit more.
A loosely based remake of the 1963 Stanley Donen classic Charade? Sure The Truth About Charlie sounds good on paper. In the updated version Regina Lambert (Thandie Newton) is a sweet unassuming woman who decides to end her 3-month whirlwind marriage to playboy Charles Lambert (Stephen Dillane). Returning to Paris from vacation she gets to their apartment and finds it empty--except for Paris Police Commandant Dominique (Christine Boisson) whose been waiting for Reggie to inform her Charlie has been murdered and question her. Suddenly Reggie's world comes to a screeching halt. First there's American embassy official Mr. Bartholomew (Tim Robbins) who warns her about the danger she is in. Then she's followed by three oddballs-: Il-sang Lee (Joong-Hoon Park) Emil Zadapec (Ted Levine) and Lola Jansco (Lisa Gay Hamilton) who claim Charlie stole about $6 million from them. Her only ally seems to be Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg) a seemingly innocent guy she meets on vacation and then in Paris always happens to be there at the right time. Thrust into the middle of the puzzle Reggie has to piece together exactly what happened to her husband where the money is and more importantly who the heck she can trust. The story seems to flow nicely but you simply get bored midway through the film. There's just not enough intrigue to carry it out to fruition.
The 1963 Charade wasn't the best script out there either. It tended to drag but what made the film become an enduring classic was the on-screen pairing of Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Together they had enough style and class to enlighten any mediocre script. Unfortunately Newton and Wahlberg pale in comparison--Hepburn and Grant they are not. Without a doubt the camera loves Newton and she's very appealing as the lost Regina trying to get a semblance of her life back. She has a fluidity which keeps your attention. And she could have easily had sparks with any another actor but with Wahlberg it's a complete wash. Writer/director Jonathan Demme makes the character Peters more of a Boy Scout rather than a suave sophisticate. Yes Wahlberg can do a role like this with his eyes closed but the part also requires that certain je ne sais quoi--and he just doesn't have it. The actor actually weighs the film down whenever he is on the screen. The supporting cast almost makes up for it especially Levine (The Silence of the Lambs) Joong-Hoon and Hamilton (Beloved) as the strange trio after the pot of gold. Robbins has a fairly nondescript part throughout most of the film but manages to make it solid when it counts.
Jonathan Demme definitely has a quirky sensibility that makes his films very entertaining to watch. He has been out of the limelight since his 1998 Beloved which was a much more classically structured film as was his Academy Award-winning Silence of the Lambs. But I remember his off-the-wall beginnings with Something Wild and Married to the Mob and am very happy to see Demme's unique style return in Charlie. To be honest it's what the saves the film from being a total yawner. He simply adores his surroundings shooting Paris much like New Wave directors of the '60s and '70s such as Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard and you can tell Demme is inspired by them. There are strange ethereal characters popping up in Reggie's view--a widow dressed in black by a bridge a saggy-faced woman at the market--which keeps the action off-kilter. Unlike the romantic Paris of Charade Demme goes into the seedier side of the city while still capturing its charm. The director also incorporates some of France's cinematic and cultural royalty including actress Anna Karina who made several films with Godard and Charles Aznavour a international singer/composer. The quirks definitely work.