"Some of the best writing in New York won't be found in books or movies or plays… but on the benches of Central Park," the irritatingly enunciated, overly-heartfelt voiceover in “5 To 7” intones alongside some pleasantly inoffensive cello bowing. Sigh… the protagonist is referring to the love-letter-like inscriptions to loved ones, the dearly departed, and family that cover many of Central Park’s finest benches. But more importantly, do you know where else the best writing in New York certainly won’t be found with a facile and groan-worthy lede like that? The sappy and painfully jejune movie “5 To 7.”
Built on the most facile and absurd of premises (a guy randomly bumps into an enchanting woman, becomes instantly smitten and begins an affair, despite the fact the movie should be called, “She’s Impossibly Out of Your League”) a fully miscast Anton Yelchin stars as Brian Blum, an aspiring novelist with a wall full of rejection letters that would have communicated to a brighter man to quit and move on. Brian is one of these movie New Yorkers who has zero job or income to speak of (and in fact, lots of visual evidence to that effect in the form of aforementioned literary rebuffs) and yet still lives in a fancy Upper East Side apartment. One day, outside the Manhattan St. Regis Hotel, the not particularly assured or charming Brian spots the girl of his dreams, a beautiful and sophisticated French woman about 10 years his senior (Bérénice Marlohe) and somehow quickly woos her. The chic and refined Arielle turns out to be the wife of a diplomat with two kids, but because of a mutual understanding between her and her husband, she can have extra-marital affairs during designated hours.
As spelled out in the movie, from five to seven PM is a type of unofficial witching hour for French adulterers – the occasion of when you’re whereabouts after work might be hazy and ill-defined. But Arielle and her husband Valery (Lambert Wilson) are out in the open about their dalliances (he has a sidepiece too). Prudish and initially taken aback, Brian finds their whole marital agreement distasteful and attempts to reject it, but Arielle’s charms soon lure him back like a perfume with Pavlovian power. However, the rules of the affair can never change: Brian and Arielle can do whatever they please between the hours of five to seven, sexually or otherwise, but these restrictions eventually begin to chafe the younger, more inexperienced party.
If this sounds ridiculous, that's because it is. Let’s be frank: you know who gorgeously exotic French women living in New York aren’t attracted to? Little ingenuous boys; unemployed writers who don’t have anything going for them either in the financial or charisma department. Utterly preposterous as this premise goes—not to mention how Brian seems hopeless and instantly way out of his depth the second he comes within inches of Arielle—this fanciful movie goes on hoping you’ll bury your incredulity for this narrative, much like the main character, who has his head in the obliviously romantic clouds.
As their cinq-a-sept affair takes roots—Brian even gets to meet the family and Jane (Olivia Thirlby), Arielle’s husband’s younger conquest—he grows disenchanted as his affections for her crystallize into something deeper. As you might guess, matters of the heart complicate and unravel what is already an unrealistic (not to mention totally unbelievable) affair. And then the already schmaltzy “5 To 7” takes a very emo turn for the worse, indulging in every young male cliché about heartache and adolescent angst that there is along the way to its very maudlin, self-pitying, she-coulda-been-the-one conclusion.
The directorial debut of writer/producer Victor Levin (who is, to one's utter shock, not a tenderfoot, but a seasoned veteran; the screenwriter of “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton” and an Emmy-award winning co-executive producer of “Mad Men”), “5 To 7” is, in a few instances anyhow, almost clever (and it’s often trying way to hard). There are vague traces of the cosmopolitan mien of Whit Stillman, almost as if Levin may have attended a swank dinner party or two in his lifetime and jotted down a few notes about wine and such. And if anyone could have totally rewritten this movie and made it funny and comically plausible, Stillman would be the one. But as it is, the movie is just incredibly shallow, self-indulgent and hackneyed.
Ultimately a cloying and mostly insipid melodrama, the heart-on-its-sleeves "5 To 7" would love to be seen in the "Breakfast At Tiffany's"/Audrey Hepburn school of romantic comedy—light, endearing, heartfelt—but it clumsily misses the mark almost every step of the way. It tries to vacillate from sentimental to cute and witty in the same manner, but just doesn’t have the same spark or light touch. And it’s ridiculously mawkish finale is so syrupy it makes one wince.
For a fleeting second, “5 To 7”—usually full of trivial platitudes about love and romance—nearly becomes as delightful as it hopes to be. The movie perks up whenever Frank Langella and Glenn Close appear onscreen playing Yelchin’s fussy Jewish parents. One line even elicits a rare laugh-out-loud guffaw, but even then it’s clear these are WASPs trying to kibitz it up and they're not quite convincing. What’s perhaps most unbelievable is just how much of an act of hubris the film is. Brian is clearly a stand-in for Levin, but the movie never dares to dress up its protagonist as an interesting or compelling figure that any woman would be attracted to, let alone this clueless little boy. Another glaring mistake is presuming that the audience believes Brian is talented and likable without every really establishing any compelling evidence. Brian is eventually published in the New Yorker (cue EIC David Remnik cameo), but nothing in the movie, certainly not his banal voiceovers, suggests he has the capacity to qualify for such a lofty achievement.
Much more of an adolescent male fantasy than a relatable, genuine film about love or relationships, “5 To 7” is deeply naïve and has very few, if any real insights to the heart or human condition. Everyone’s had a broken heart and many a storyteller, filmmaker or otherwise have tried to articulate their lovelorn anguish, but unfortunately for the director, the heartbreak rendered in this forgettable trifle is so prosaic and saccharine, it will rightfully invite plenty of ridicule. [D-]