There’s a lot of bullshit one must withstand in order to tolerate the steady charms of 5 to 7, a romantic comedy whose main character, unpublished fiction writer Brian Bloom (Anton Yelchin), seduces a married French woman, ingratiates himself with New York City’s cultural elite, and lands a book deal at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Brian lives, on his parents’ dime, in an Upper East Side apartment, its walls lined with rejection letters from major magazines and literary journals. His lightly brooding, romantic literary ambitions are distracted one afternoon when he sees Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe) outside of the St. Regis Hotel. The older woman, an ex-model, is taken with the man’s clumsy repartee and facility with the French language. She agrees to see him again, but only from the hours of five and seven in the evening, the traditional timeframe where the French meet their lovers between work and nights with their children.
Writer-director Victor Levin keeps 5 to 7 at once resolutely superficial and endearingly tender. Most of the film’s conversation depends on a fading image of Frenchness, and a notion of Jewishness that’s been refurbished to suit a film of utter congeniality: Arielle, a smoker, is stylish, sexy, and laissez-faire; Brian is neurotic and interested in baseball, but well-tailored and eternally good-natured. Their talks elapse in long walks through Central Park and in meetings in a St. Regis hotel room, which Levin captures in patient, autumnal shots that consciously evoke Richard Linklater’s Before films, largely keeping the lovers together in the same frame. Like that trilogy, 5 to 7 is chaste and preoccupied with essentialist notions of gender and cultural differences, and Levin bets on the easy conviction of his two stars to sustain an increasingly far-fetched romantic fantasy. The most surprising thing about 5 to 7 is how long it transpires without allowing conflict to surface. An encounter with Arielle’s husband, a strapping diplomat (Lambert Wilson), leads to dinner with composer Alan Gilbert, restauranteur Daniel Boulud, and civil rights hero Julian Bond, along with the spunky young editor (Olivia Thirlby) who will make Brian’s professional dreams come true. After Brian confronts his parents (Frank Langella and Glenn Close) with news about his romantic arrangement, they only express fury until they share a drink with his paramour.
Ironically, 5 to 7’s mildness turns out to be its most engaging quality. Levin’s script has a humility that cushions both Brian’s dizzyingly absurd climb up the economic ladder and a few vanilla jokes about French oenophiles and American beer swillers. Yelchin wanders dreamily through most of the film’s romantic developments, but in conversation his novelist has an intelligence and earnestness that never quite lapses into overly verbose pretension. (Levin has written a couple episodes of Mad Men, and knows just when to pull back the reins on writerly affect.) As the product of an unabashed male fantasy, Marlohe has a more limiting role, but she and Yelchin have impressive comic timing, and her urbanity helps to keep the film afloat once the inevitable romantic ultimatums arise. There, Levin makes one of the film’s few major mistakes, plagiarizing a visual montage from part of Linklater’s trilogy, but the director otherwise does well harnessing a resolutely old-fashioned entertainment. 5 to 7 suggests love and success is just a few good blazers and a social networking opportunity away. The film is just amiable enough that you might feel like believing it for an hour and a half.