What would young, aspiring writers in movies do without kooky women to serve as their muse? Victor Levin’s “5 to 7” offers a couple of refreshing innovations on the template. The woman is older and wiser than the boy, though still kooky (she’s French). And the film at times genuinely touches on the bittersweet magic of first love.
On the other hand, Levin breaks that unwritten rule of cinema: Never allude to a film that’s better than your own. For him, it starts with the title, which recalls New Wave director Agnes Varda’s delicately tragic “Cleo From 5 to 7” (1962).
Levin’s film breaks another rule: Don’t sabotage a protagonist (especially a promising author) with a clunky voice-over. To be fair, 24-year-old Brian Bloom (Anton Yelchin) does say at the beginning that he is one of the worst writers in New York, a statement presumably made with self-deprecating irony. But as the clichés and overwrought prose pile up, he demonstrates that he might be right.
Luckily, he encounters 33-year-old Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe) smoking a cigarette outside the St. Regis Hotel. After he shows off his high school French, Brian is amazed to find that he has actually interested this exotic beauty. She invites him to meet her from “5 to 7,” and is shocked when he later learns that “cinq a sept” is the old-fashioned French term for a casual liaison. Even more upsetting, Arielle blithely lets on that she is married to Valery (Lambert Wilson), a diplomat, and has two children.
Brian is a naïf, or maybe he’s just narrow-minded. Repeatedly he expresses disbelief at Arielle’s seeming amorality, and repeatedly she tells him not to be so judgmental. After the third or fourth repetition of this, we get it, even if Brian doesn’t. Especially after Arielle says that everyone has his or her reasons, bringing up another movie, Renoir’s “Rules of the Game,” to which Levin should not encourage comparisons. But Arielle herself is oddly unfamiliar with such things as the Disney movie “The Little Mermaid,” and the Jewish holiday Passover. In short, both characters live in the insulated bubble known as movie stereotyping.
But the cast makes the most of it. Though Yelchin does not elevate his role much above pasty callowness, Marlohe brings to hers a luminous irony and melancholy that makes her the ideal elusive beauty of hyper-romantic adolescent dreams. And just in time for some comic relief, the oddly but perfectly cast Glenn Close and Frank Langella arrive as Brian’s emphatically Jewish parents. Langella’s reading of the lines “Pardon my French” and “I cannot tell you how little I want to see a Broadway show right now” alone make this film worth seeing.