‘5 to 7” is set in modern-day Manhattan, but it’s old-fashioned in the best sense. It expresses a belief in love as something miraculous and transformational. It says that love makes people what they are and provides the experiences that reverberate for a lifetime.
Most people would agree with those sentiments, but love stories go in and out of fashion, and it has been two generations since “boy meets girl” was the movies’ most popular formula. “5 to 7” isn’t boy meets girl, exactly, so much as boy meets woman. Or, to be more accurate, young man meets utterly fantastic woman.
Lest my enthusiasm for Berenice Marlohe tip my hand too early, it’s probably best to say straight out that “5 to 7” is in that rare category of romantic drama that seems aimed for a male audience. Like the first two “Before” movies, in which Ethan Hawke stood there as an acceptable surrogate while men in the audience had a virtual date with Julie Delpy, the young man here is secondary. His job is to be the inoffensive receptacle for amazing good luck.
An aspiring writer, like Ethan Hawke in the first “Before Sunrise,” Brian (Anton Yelchin) is walking down the street one day and sees a beautiful woman across the street smoking a cigarette. He walks over, strikes up a conversation and lo and behold, she likes him. She’s French, and he’s American. She’s 33, and he’s 24, but the age difference doesn’t put her off. She finds him charming. Yes, love is miraculous.
When they meet again, she tells him that she is free most nights from five o’clock to seven, which apparently is code for saying that she is married. She is the wife of a wealthy diplomat and has two kids. It’s a very Continental situation. The husband (Lambert Wilson) has a girlfriend on the side, but Arielle (Marlohe) and he have an understanding: As long as the extra-marital liaisons are kept between the hours of five to seven, no one has cause to complain.
“5 to 7” follows the progress of Brian and Arielle’s love affair, while also keeping track of Brian’s development as a writer, two elements that are related. He starts off the film as talented, but with nothing to say. Arielle is his education in emotional life.
Marlohe, best known for her appearance in the Bond film “Skyfall,” gives Arielle a worldliness and wisdom, while making it credible that this remarkable woman would pick some unprepossessing kid as her lover, with all New York at her disposal. The role of Arielle was originally supposed to go to Diane Kruger, whose tough-minded realism would have been interesting here. But Marlohe, earthier yet more ethereal, is ideal.
As for Yelchin, think of him as like Kristen Stewart in “Twilight.” His job is to seem almost worthy of his romantic fortune, but not so attractive as to prevent viewers from thinking that, in similar circumstances, in the right time and place, things will work out for them, too.