Dull picture chronicles boring affair
According to writer/director Victor Levin’s new film, a “5 to 7” relationship among the French refers to an extramarital affair, fully sanctioned by all involved parties, that may or may not take place during those appointed hours, but is termed thusly regardless. In Levin’s new film named for that expression, though, the affair that is the film’s subject does indeed mostly take place during those evening hours. The participants are 24-year-old aspiring New York writer Brian (Anton Yelchin, best known as the Star Trek reboot’s young Chekov) and the beautiful, older, married Frenchwoman Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe, Skyfall). At least these two get to have a few hours of fun; the viewers of this hokey mess aren’t quite as lucky.
Levin is a former TV writer (Mad About You); 5 to 7 is his first feature, and it most definitely feels that way. His dialogue is clunky and trite (a character actually utters the line, “I have never felt so alive as I have when I’m in your arms.”), his premise and characters are clichéd (because standing in the rain talking and smoking is shorthand for depth and romance, apparently), and the entire film plays like a naïve American film student’s idea of an arty French film. Or rather, it feels like a naïve American male film student’s fantasy. Case in point: Levin has Brian receive compliments on his perfect, fluent French, even though, we are clearly told, Brian has never been abroad. And, after Arielle and Brian have their first tryst (set to hip French pop music, of course), Arielle, the beautiful, sophisticated, worldly, 33-year-old French former model (naturally), tells wide-eyed 24-year-old, unemployed, mopey writer Brian that he is a good lover. C’est fantastique, non?
Levin steals liberally not only from old French cinema, but also from Woody Allen (Manhattan has never looked better), as his characters try to converse wittily about writing, love, sex, marriage, culture, and religion. About half way through the picture, Levin even throws in a flashback montage of the lovers, à la Annie Hall, which is a strange move, since Brian and Arielle haven’t shared much besides standing outside smoking and hanging out in a fancy hotel room.
And therein lies the problem: we never really believe that Arielle and Brian are soul mates of any sort, or even that they are particularly passionate about each other, though we are expressly told that, over and over, mostly by them. Someone needs to teach Levin the Creative Writing101 rule of showing, and not telling. Levin seems to be aiming for a New York version of Blue is the Warmest Color, but his story and his characters are sorely missing the charged, visceral emotion and passion of that picture. Brian’s prosaic voice over narration about great and perfect loves just doesn’t cut it when all we ever see are the lovers entering a hotel room, and then a quick cut to them getting dressed. Not that we need the same sort of graphic sex scenes that were so effective in Blue is the Warmest Color, but we do need a little more to go on to buy Arielle and Brian’s romance aside from their corny, stilted professions of ardor.
As he proved in Star Trek and the indie film Like Crazy, another romance involving a foreigner, Yelchin does have a sweetness and sensitivity that make him a charming, likable leading man. But here he just seems grating and not especially bright. Marlohe fares a bit better, but even her role is relatively one note. The supporting actors manage to elevate the proceedings a bit, at least; Glenn Close and Frank Langella are very funny, if a little too stereotypical, as Brian’s neurotic, worried parents. And Langella gets to deliver the movie’s best line, acknowledging the film’s obvious nod to The Graduate by referring to Arielle as “La Femme Robinson.” Olivia Thirlby, as Jane, a book editor and Arielle’s husband’s mistress (ooh la la – so very French) who befriends Brian professionally and personally, brings more energy and personality to her scenes than either Yelchin or Marlohe do to any of theirs. Eric Stoltz has a brief cameo as Jane’s boss; his scene is only a few minutes long, but Stoltz is a welcome presence here, and it’s a shame he’s not seen on screen more these days.
Given everything that precedes it, the film’s ending is as dopey as you might expect, filled with more of Brian’s heartfelt voice over gems, like this one: “She made me a writer. She made me a man.” If only Levin could make us interested. Could make us care. Now that would be très bon.
5 to 7 opens today at the Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco and at the Elmwood Theater in Berkeley. Note that writer/director Victor Levin will be at the Opera Plaza Cinema for a Q&A following the 7:00pm screening tomorrow, Saturday, April 11, and following the noon and 2:40pm screenings on Sunday, April 12th.