New York City, impoverished writers, French exotic women: all have been romanticized in film countless times ever since the cinematic medium was invented. 5 to 7, directed by Victor Levin, has combined each and every one of those clichés and it kind of works-at least for the first half.
Aspiring young writer Brian (Anton Yelchin) meets Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe), the wife of a French Diplomat. She’s older, more sophisticated and the mother of two but despite all of this wished to conduct an affair with Brian. His traditional values (that affairs are bad) clash with Arielle’s more new-age ideas about as long as it’s okay with your partner, affairs can be helpful indulgences. Arielle’s husband has his own lover and the children know about both. Despite the unconventional nature of their relationship it appears to be going well, both of them having found a kindred spirit in the other one, Brian is having luck in his writing and they’re even falling in love. Obviously it can’t all go well and the two must decide what the best way to conduct their romance is.
The biggest problem with 5 to 7 is just how well the first half works. The “meet cute” between our two leads is suitably eccentric with whip-smart banter and longing looks. We watch as their affair of sorts unravels and it’s interesting and electric and Yelchin and Marlohe share a palpable, surprising chemistry. Yelchin is energetic and manages to personify the manic energy that so many actors overdo-he’s an engaging young actor and has been for a while but rarely seems to find vehicles that utilize his talents just right. Berenice is effortless charming, an old time beauty who also has an air of fun about her and Frank Langella and Glenn Close as Brian’s parents appear in brief scenes to liven up the script with moments of accentuated humor.
Once we’ve hit the midway point is when the maudlin mood sets in, causing the offbeat tone of the movie to veer dramatically into the saccharine.
Tonally it becomes a mess of plot points. The emotional moments toe the line of sickly earnest and silly. It’s a film that in the end didn’t know how it wanted to tell its story. Written also by Levin the script has a tendency to jump genres-which can be successful if the transitions from one to the other. Which, Levin doesn’t quite accomplish. The third act in particular is when structurally things begin to fall apart. It has about two endings too many and jarringly turns from a light romantic comedy to a serious drama that we’re supposed to have a weighty response to.
Nothing about it is particularly poorly executed-the writing while melodramatic isn’t bad and the acting, as I mentioned, is hugely watchable and Levin has a deft hand at directing moments to make them appear as if they’ve come straight off the pages of a romance novels-glossy, crisp and vibrant. The film simply needed to find a way to manage both moods of the story so that by the end the audience didn’t have to guess at what they’re supposed to feel.
Sure to divide audiences the film isn’t for those who get bothered by overtly romantic stories however, if you love stories of beautiful people, falling in love in cities that make well timed remarks about smoking and the rain, you’ll have a lovely time.