A marital blackmail comedy in which the war between the sexes goes only slightly better than the war in Iraq, “The Price to Pay” dares to revisit the unspoken tradition whereby women who don’t work are expected to be sexually available to the men who support them. Sophomore pic from scripter-helmer Alexandra Leclere affords some genuine comic mileage, with a steady undercurrent of melancholy and frustration, as it paints men and women as reluctant warriors for whom money both facilitates and ruins everything. Item has been doing well in Gaul since April 4 release.
Mild-mannered, 50ish exec Jean-Pierre Menard (Christian Clavier) has a thriving career, an elegant Paris apartment, a polite teen daughter (Anais Demoustier) and a chic wife, Odile (Nathalie Baye). For Odile, whose middle name is entitlement, whipping out her credit card in half a dozen luxury boutiques before lunch comes as naturally as breathing.
Jean-Pierre loves his wife, but it’s been ages since they’ve had sex. His cordial romantic overtures are met with the upper-class body-language equivalent of “Surely you jest!”
So he confides his marital woes to his chauffeur, Richard (Gerard Lanvin), a courteous hunk who says Caroline (Geraldine Pailhas), his live-in companion now falls asleep with her computer rather than his muscled bod. He adds that women only stay with men for their money.
Surreptitiously, Jean-Pierre removes his wife’s credit cards and checkbook from her purse. The next day, unable to pay for so much as a taxi to her upscale haunts on Avenue Montaigne, Odile shows her true colors. Jean-Pierre announces, “No nookie, no cash.” Richard issues a similar ultimatum to Caroline, and the games begin.
That both women expect to be valued, respected and kept runs up against the men’s wishes to be desired for themselves, not their earnings. Interestingly, neither gent wishes to seek another sexual outlet, while the women won’t rule out other sources of revenue.
Pic’s unabashed vulgarity is bracing, but the narrative’s major drawback is that it sets up a terrific premise, runs with it a fair distance but, while true to human motivations, can’t arrive at a satisfying conclusion. Lensing is adequate, with the aesthetic gulf between upper class and working class neatly delineated in decors and costumes.
Thesps are fine, with special praise for Patrick Chesnais as a man who can only enjoy sex if he pays for it in a wildly expensive hotel. Syncopated score is a welcome counterpoint to the sometimes sordid goings-on.