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A Five Star Life | Review

Perks of Using the Star System: Tognazzi’s Tale a Tad Too Familiar

A Five Star Life PosterMaria Sole Tognazzi, daughter of famed actor/director Ugo Tognazzi, visits the mid-life crisis mode of the single female for her third feature, A Five Star Life. Featuring one of Italy’s most noted leading ladies, Margherita Buy, this rather reserved exercise feels far too buttoned up to make any lasting impression, genuine as everyone involved seems to be. The plotting, the scenario, and the eventual outcome are all far too familiar, (unique occupations aside) to register as anything more than standard cliché. Several subplots seem like a bid to pad out the running time rather than furthering the development of supporting characters.

A single, childless fortysomething woman, Irene (Buy) seems to have a dream job as a luxury hotel inspector. Sailing into extravagant lodges, she plays a mystery guest, ticking off demerits on the service and presentation. While this may have initially been a lucrative position, Irene seems bored with her life, never able to establish romance due to her travels. She maintains a close relationship with her ex-partner, Andrea (Stefano Accorsi) and occasionally gets to look after her sister’s two children to satisfy her occasional maternal instinct. Yet Irene can’t help but feel something is missing. A chance meeting with an intriguing woman, Kate Sherman (Lesley Manville) helps Irene chance upon an epiphany on how she needs to change her life.

Considering Tognazzi’s co-screenwriters are Ivan Cotroneo (I Am Love) and Francesca Marciano (I’m Not Scared), A Five Star Life already seems tired and underwhelming in comparison, especially considering that Cotroneo’s already delivered similar material with a great deal aplomb.

Shackled to a certain formula of ‘working independent woman learns that only focusing on herself and her career is devouring her,’ it’s a handsomely mounted vehicle for Italian star Margherita Buy, a longtime leading lady who may not have the same art-house following in the US as a contemporary like Giovanna Mezzogiorno (though why it’s clearly stated that Buy’s Irene is fortysomething seems a bit unnecessary and/or distracting). If only Irene weren’t such a predictable bore. For those familiar with one of her signature roles, Antonia in Ferzan Ozpetek’s 2001 film, His Secret Life, many may be happy to see her reunited with co-star Stefano Accorsi from that film, here playing very cordial ex-lovers (once again, Accorsi deals in vegetable distribution, curiously enough). Accorsi, along with Fabrizia Sacchi as Irene’s sister, hardly seem to register as actual characters, swallowed by Irene’s inability to see anyone else’s problems but her own.

But the character that breathes a little vibrancy into the narrative happens to be a surprise cameo from Lesley Manville, a feminist researching the detrimental effects of the masculine gaze on the representation of women in pornography (and she’s got the unkindly job of spelling out the problem with the world Irene’s stuck in noting, “Luxury is a form of deceit.”) Sadly, she’s curiously dispatched just as soon as she arrives, yet her character is intrinsically more interesting than Buy’s to such a degree that we want to sail off into her narrative instead. If you’re in need of a generic afternoon film to fill a few laconic hours, then this tale about a woman finding her voice and branching off into the excitement of the unknown should fit the bill.

★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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