"5 to 7" stars Anton Yelchin and Bérénice Marlohe in a falling-in-love fantasy defined by clashing cultures, complex problems and lots of amused expressions.
It's springtime New York. Brian (Yelchin) is a struggling writer in his 20s. Arielle (Marlohe) is a former French model, now in her 30s, married to a French diplomat and the mother of two. Their chance encounter is sparked by a cigarette break. Soon Brian is ready to upend his life for her; she's in love but not so inclined. For all that draws them together, their nine-year age difference and an ocean of attitudes divides.
The clock is always ticking on their affair, which according to rules Arielle and her husband, Valery (Lambert Wilson), have hammered out, can happen only between 5 and 7 on weekdays. In theory, that agreement keeps their dalliances from damaging the marriage.
So you know right away where to look for the coming conflict.
What Brian and Arielle will do when the unconventional rules of engagement become untenable becomes the central issue in writer-director Victor Levin's lark about love. Levin, making his feature debut with the film, brings some of the sensibility you'll find in his earlier work, either writing or overseeing the writing on Season 5 of "Mad Men" and the final years of the Paul Reiser-Helen Hunt sitcom "Mad About You."
It's resulted in a flirty relationship style between men and women, along with an irrepressible need to debate what is right or wrong with the pair. Levin gives the film a literary flair throughout, often panning back to the plaques on the benches of Central Park to speak of the vagaries of love. While cinematographer Arnaud Potier gets beauty shots of the couple, the city and all they encounter, production designer Jeannine Oppewall and costume designer Heidi Bivens lend a polished look. Along with the lilting classical sound of the music composed by Saunder Jurriaans and Danny Bensi, the entire production takes on a kind of gauzy loveliness.
All of that works in concert to give "5 to 7" much of its charm.
The banter between Brian and Arielle is easy and often amusing. But despite all the tangled sheets and entwined bodies during assignations at the St. Regis hotel, the relationship never moves beyond the look of puppy love.
Brian's adoring; Arielle's indulgent. It's very unlike Yelchin's turn opposite Felicity Jones in Drake Doremus' cross-continental love story, "Like Crazy," in which sensuality and angst is felt to the core. The busy actor, still probably best known these days for doing a spot-on Chekov as part of the new crew in charge of the rebooted "Star Trek," is smart to keep smaller character-driven roles in the mix, even when they fall a bit short.
Meanwhile, Marlohe does enigmatic and sultry with a quiet grace, whether as a duplicitous siren worth James Bond saving in "Skyfall" or in New York with a budding novelist. The French actress has one of those faces the camera truly loves, so it's not much of a stretch to believe the men around her fall hard.
Arielle not only takes Brian into her bed but outside of the 5-to-7 window, into her home as part of the arrangement she and Valery have. So there are sophisticated dinners with the likes of social activist Julian Bond, New York Philharmonic's Alan Gilbert and noted French chef Daniel Boulud, playing their erudite selves. Valery's 5 to 7 love also has a seat at the table, a promising book editor named Jane (Olivia Thirlby), who will factor into Brian's future.
The conversations between Brian and his more traditional parents, Arlene (Glenn Close) and Sam (Frank Langella), often prove the film's most interesting. A clearer sense of his internal conflicts begin to emerge as he defines and defends his romantic feelings.
As you might predict, as Brian Bloom's career blooms, his affair with Arielle hits an impasse. But nothing makes a better topic for a young novelist than a broken heart.
Overall, Levin has a light touch with his actors, though he is a bit too concerned with patching up Brian's heart, and he hasn't figured out how to make sensuality sizzle on screen. Still "5 to 7" is an interesting directing debut that, like Brian, shows promise.
'5 to 7'
MPAA rating: R for some sexual material
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: Landmark Theatre, West Los Angeles