Exoskeleton, by Aaron Pinkston
Irene Lorenzi (Margherita Buy) is a 40-something, independent woman whose life is mostly tied up in her job as a secret patron of 5-star hotels across Europe. Throughout A Five Star Life, whenever Irene visits a new hotel, the film lets us in on the little secrets of these luxurious hot spots, mostly small details that would go unnoticed by most of us, but make the difference. This device works — not only do these locations provide for a Lifestyles-of-the-Rich-and-Famous-type satisfaction, but there is always something to seeing a successful character in their working environment. Unfortunately, however, that is the extent of the film’s appeal. Like the hotels, the film is beautiful and carries a nice facade, but is ultimately too antiseptic to be distinguishable.
Away from her work, Irene struggles with her family-driven sister and a rekindling with an ex-flame. The film’s narrative has a bit too much of the familiar trope that these people have perfect lives on the surface, but actually have deep emotional problems underneath — this is a fine way to break into a character study, but every character in A Five Star Life has this quality. Irene’s sister, despite the ideal nuclear family, is having problems with her husband being sexually attracted to her anymore. Her gorgeous former beau is having a child, but those around him are unsure if he has the maturity to be a father, and, despite this exciting transition, he can’t move on from Irene.
I’ve seen A Five Star Life described as a comedy or romantic comedy or some other variation. I don’t see it. Not only is the film not structured like a comedy, but I really didn’t find any humor in it. Most of the film is fairly light and there aren’t many heavily dramatic moments; I wouldn’t confuse this with being a comedy, just a mostly dull film. Buy’s performance is strong enough to make the character compelling, but by the time A Five Star Life is over, you notice that not much happened over the course of its 85 minutes.
To the film’s credit, this is a female-driven film with a strong central character who is learning to care more for her own needs than those of others. There are too many films centered around an independent woman who by the end of the film throws her career and personal interests away for a man — A Five Star Life has those threads available, but it never sells Irene out. Writer-director Maria Sole Tognazzi is certainly interested in telling female-driven stories that respect their characters, and so there is something to look out for, but this film doesn’t quite deliver enough on the topic.
Irene’s most important relationship in the film, albeit a brief one, is with a fellow hotel patron in Berlin. This woman is similar to Irene in age, relationship status and ideology — though Irene doesn’t clearly express a feminist coda through much of the film, this stranger does it for a living. In the film’s most captivating scene, Irene watches Kate (played in the cameo by Lesley Manville) on a German talkshow, selling her new book about women’s roles in society. This scene is the only time where the film does something different with the camera and pace, and more importantly, actually seems to say something.
A Five Star Life has the environments and the beginnings of a satisfying character study, but its muted tone washes over without a hook. Not every film has to be “entertaining,” but there needs to be something else that can emotionally or intellectually provoke the viewer. I’m not willing to look past filmmaker Maria Sole Tognazzi, who certainly has a voice and is in the right direction, but A Five Star Life just didn’t deliver.