For the fortysomething single woman at the center of "A Five Star Life," luxury travel provides a middle-class income. Her go-go globetrotting brings her to the world's premium resorts, armed with checklist, stopwatch and white gloves, to judge whether they get to keep that all-important fifth star. Putting her seemingly content protagonist through very low-key emotional crises, director Maria Sole Tognazzi gently explores what it means to be unmarried, middle-aged and female. She illuminates a seldom-seen line of work, bathes her flawed characters in affection, and makes points both obvious and astute, soft-pedaling her insights with celebratory travelogue touches.
A hit in Italy, the film earned the country's top acting award for Margherita Buy, whose lovely portrayal of elegant "mystery guest" Irene is as unflashy as the mildly conflicted movie itself. The original title, "Viaggio Sola," is more to the point of Irene's solitary — but not lonely — journeys. Her identity concealed, she's essentially a spy at hotspots for the well-heeled. Back in Rome, a sparsely furnished apartment awaits, as well as a married-with-children sister (Fabrizia Sacchi) who frets about her being alone and an ex-boyfriend (Stefano Accorsi) who, somewhat disconcertingly, is her best pal. A change of circumstances for him threatens the orderliness of Irene's life.
The movie's true tension concerns not the characters' outcome but whether Tognazzi and her co-writers will yield to Hollywood conventions by turning her heroine into a problem that only romance can solve. On that front, Lesley Manville injects a shot of bright energy as a freethinking Berlin hotel guest. However conspicuous her function in the story, she zeros in on the "deceit" of luxury — more of a critique than the tourism-friendly movie ultimately musters.
"A Five Star Life."
No MPAA rating. In Italian, English and French with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.
At Laemmle's Royal, West Los Angeles; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.