On the surface, Irene (Margherita Buy) has it made. As a luxury hotel critic, Irene jet sets across the globe, stopping at the most picturesque locations, staying at the most luxurious of hotels, and dining on the most phenomenal of cuisines. And the best part about all of this, they pay her to do it. Nice work if you can get it.
I imagine that when Irene was 20, this was the glamorous life that she dreamed of. No attachments and no major responsibilities. Just the sheer pleasure of getting paid to travel. Now that Irene is pushing 50, she’s figured out that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
Irene’s luxurious exterior is not mirrored internally. In her late 40s and single, Irene’s closest relationship is a former lover turned best friend, Andrea (Stefano Accorsi), and it’s clear that he has moved on, particularly to younger women. The closest thing Irene has for a family are her two nieces, and she’s not exactly up for Aunt of the Year.
A Five Star Life is an Italian film (the literal translation of the original title, Viaggio Sola, means “I travel alone”) is an extremely on-the-nose story about a woman of a certain age. Movies about career women typically enter the vein of balancing the drive of the career with romantic and maternal needs, but in A Five Star Life, there isn’t much to balance. Irene has tipped over full-scale into career. Relationships and family are more like wishful assumptions. For Irene, the family life looks fulfilling, but for her absent-minded sister, Silvia (Fabrizia Sacchi), Irene’s life looks serene, quiet, and adventurous. A Five Star Life acknowledges that the grass on the other side of the fence always looks greener; it just has a hard time making up its mind where to stand.
There are some positives to A Five Star Life. Buy is a compelling and capable lead actress, and the location photography is sumptuous, but there are too many detractors to make these worthwhile. The side characters surrounding Irene are underdeveloped and don’t serve much of a purpose other than to reflect possible directions Irene’s life could have taken. These could have been used to explore Irene’s wants and desires, but they never are. Instead, the characters in Irene’s life are more-or-less props that fill the space between hotels.
A Five Star Life was made with the cooperation of The Leading Hotels of the World, which reduces this movie to an elaborate and elongated advertisement for luxury hotels. In that respect, the movie is quite successful, but the lack of a story here is obvious. The most compelling moments are the ones that surround the life of a hotel critic, as Irene rates the food, the service, the linens, etc. Like all good critics, she is attentive to not only her own needs and service but also the needs and services rendered to the guests around her. Yet, even in these moments, director and co-writer Maria Sole Tognazzi pulls her punches and refrains from developing any real conflict or potential illumination. These moments just sit there, like abandoned thoughts.
If there is a point to A Five Star Life (other than advertising for the world’s greatest hotels), then it is: there is more to life than work. Good job, Five Star Life, you figured it out. Welcome to the party.
A Five Star Life (2013)
Directed by: Maria Sole Tognazzi
Written by: Ivan Cotroneo, Francesca Marciano, Maria Sole Tognazzi
Produced by: Donatella Botti
Starring: Margherita Buy, Stefano Accorsi, Fabrizia Sacchi, Lesley Manville
Music Box Films, Not Rated, Running time 85 minutes, Released September 26, 2014