"A Five Star Life" is a globetrotting film that never really goes anywhere. It follows a luxury hotel critic to exquisite resorts as she ascertains whether they should keep their prestigious rating.
Irene (Margherita Buy) is a 40-something single woman who seemingly has the perfect job. As a "mystery guest" she secretly assesses the amenities at posh hotels. Her attention to detail is meticulous. From checking the temperature of wine to stopwatching room service, Irene has it down to a science.
But white-gloving lavish establishments don't appear to provide Irene much pleasure. When she does manage going home to Rome, what's waiting is a stark, lonely apartment and frozen food. As of late she's discovered that her best friend and ex-lover is about to become a father and her sister's marriage is on the rocks. The acute realization that loneliness dominates her life hits suddenly and hard.
The lack of intimacy in Irene's life is accentuated when she meets an author named Kate (Lesley Manville) who's also a feminist anthropologist. After a long conversation in the hotel spa, Kate points out that "luxury is a form of deceit." As it sinks in, Irene becomes aware of the fact that she's a tourist in her own life.
The problem is that Irene never really reacts to that revelation and hopes for the story to go in a new direction are dashed. She remains the same person that she was at the beginning of the film in the end.
"A Five Star Life" is not to be dismissed solely on that level. Director Maria Sole Tognazzi has crafted a lighthearted, sometimes quite funny and scenic piece of filmmaking. Shots in Paris, Gstaad, Berlin and Morocco provide stunning visuals from the best perspectives. And Ms. Buy's performance is as lovely as her surroundings. She has this Blythe Danner/Susan Sarandon/Catherine Deneuve thing going on which is very alluring.
For the most part, "A Five Star Life" is a beautiful travelogue peppered with wry humor. Its original title "I Travel Alone" may have been more descriptive given the material. My choice ... "An Elegant Ride to Nowhere."