A Five Star Life is a romantic doodle with an unusually laidback sense of emphasis. All the high points of the story appear to happen off screen, leaving only the transitory moments that filmmakers might normally skip over. Irene (Margherita Buy), a luxury hotel inspector, falls into bed with her ex-boyfriend, Andrea (Stefano Accorsi), and all we see is a bit of kissing before and a quick clarifying argument after. There’s pointedly no melodrama involving Irene’s misinterpretations of casual sex or Andrea’s potential new girlfriend’s outrage at the infidelity. Similarly, Irene gets into an argument with her sister, Silvia (Fabrizia Sacchi), and they don’t speak for a while and then they make up, all with little complication. Irene meets a handsome rich man, and he tells her he’s married and they move on. And so forth. There’s no villain in this film, and there’s little gimmickry to keep the plot humming.
Director Maria Sole Tognazzi displays confidence in her willingness to pursue one narrative dead end after another, and this allows her to evade the trap of the midlife-crisis dramedy genre she’s working in, which often wallows in a pity for a privileged character that’s disproportionate to the extremity of their problems. Rather than offensively positioning her protagonist as a spokesman for the downtrodden in the vein of the similarly themed Up in the Air, Tognazzi emphasizes the staleness of Irene’s careerism in a fashion that never loses sight of the day-to-day comedy of her self-absorption. Irene’s a lonely woman, estranged from society, but she keeps steering herself into these situations that are certain to flat line so that she can immediately return to her life as a perpetual tourist who lives in places that are designed to offer impermanent comfort.
A Five Star Life works as well as it does for Buy, who informs Irene with a loveliness that’s transporting and poignant. Buy lets you see the character’s essential insecurity, as well as her perfectionism, which has led to an inability to commit to anything for fear it might not be as good as something else. (Irene was born too early, but she’d be an ideal millennial.) For a while, Buy allows you to forget that the film, for all its generosity of feeling, is awfully slight. In the light of Buy’s performance and the beautiful actors and international five-star settings, you can’t help but yearn for the story to eventually go somewhere, especially after the scene-stealing Lesley Manville is accorded a disappointingly abrupt exit that serves to plop Irene right back on reliable old square one yet again. Tognazzi diligently keeps her heroine’s ego in check, and that’s awfully principled of her, but her audience may feel as if they’ve inadvertently booked a trip with no destination.