At one point in A Five Star Life—when we’re just beginning to get jaded about luxury hotel inspector Irene (Margherita Buy)—she explains to a hotel manager that she’s docking them severely, and it’s not because the wine was two degrees warmer than it should be. Turns out hotel employees were dismissive of a less-sophisticated couple. It’s a sweetly protective moment from someone introduced as painfully exacting, and it’s moments like this that A Five Star Life is at its best: when it’s quietly playing with expectations.
Some things, of course, have to be taken as given. Though no hotel in the film gets away unscathed by some white-glove failing, this Italian production globe-hops with pristine abandon as it tracks Irene, gliding through impeccably neutral hotels in impeccably neutral clothes. “Luxury is a form of deceit,” a guest warns her at one point, but director Maria Sole Tognazzi makes it look awfully good. Still, in a movie about a mature single woman with a lifestyle that precludes a family, there are Hollywood expectations in play. Her sparsely-furnished apartment, her sister’s slightly messy home life and precocious children, and the ex-lover who’s stayed in her orbit all seem to suggest the sort of domestic reckoning that might already have you cringing.
But the film observes the lives of all its principles more concerned with a steady eye than a Hollywood message machine; it knows that a glancing blow can still carry quite a sting. There’s still a little fantasy amid all this slice-of-life, but it’s a movie that trusts its audience not to demand absolutes. A Five Star Life knows sometimes you can learn about a character just from seeing her on the streets of a city and out of the ivory tower, and it’s a sometimes unexpected, always stylish journey.