Victor Levin says he is “allergic” to the overused term “romantic comedy.” Steering away from the former label is probably a good choice, as romantic comedies seem to follow the reused fairy tale formula in Hollywood: guy meets girl, some sort of break up, and then guy gets girl. Rather, writer and director Levin prefers to characterize his directorial debut “5 to 7” as a “romance for grownups with a couple of laughs.”
The new film was screened on the penultimate day of the Virginia Film Festival (VFF) in Charlottesville, Va. Before the opening credits rolled, producer Julie Lynn amused the crowd by saying, “I want to let you know that no one dies in this film.” (Apparently, that has been an issue at previous VFFs.) After the feature, NYU film historian Harry Chotiner delved deeper by putting questions to the panel: Frank Langella, Julian Bond, Julie Lynn, Bonnie Curtis, and Victor Levin. Chotiner says “5 to 7” is a film that is full of “uncommercial choices.” (Frank Langella chimed in, “I was one of them!”) Novel approaches to genres are not new for Levin, the former co-executive producer of “Mad Men.” However, “5 to 7” really puts a new spin on romance, capturing its essence with respect to physicality, companionship, and intellectual discourse in the context of exploring American and French culture.
The concept is also tied markedly to the experience of living in New York, as well as being a writer: bringing in some iconic elements of the artistic circle of NY with the Guggenheim, Central Park, and the New Yorker. “5 to 7” follows the story of writer Brian Bloom (Anton Yelchin), a young American writer in NYC. He dreams of being published, despite the many rejection letters that decorate his room like a fantastic wall paper. He has a chance encounter with Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe), the French wife of a diplomat.
They engage in an affair, which is bound by the rules of meeting only between the evening hours of 5:00 to 7:00. Arielle’s husband, Valery (Lambert Wilson), is known to have a mistress, Jane (Olivia Thirby). These type of boundaries for open affairs are rather strange, a situation that Levin actually witnessed himself when he stayed with a married couple during his days as a student. “This was not in the syllabus … they were happy,” he said. Indeed, one might expect to be repelled initially by the proposition Arielle gives to Brian. However, the heart and emotion which Yelchin and Marlohe inject into their portrayals really serves to draw you into the human element of story and suspend your belief long enough to accept the terms. When you do accept the terms, your expectations continue to remain fluid, as events never seem to play out the way you’d hoped. Thus, it’s transformed into a film for a smart audience, rather than something in the vein of the traditional and cookie cutter approach.
One major point of the film is that romance follows different paths for different people. The conventional courtship-marriage concept repeatedly intrudes, as it is foreign to the very nature of an affair. The serious tones are also balanced wonderfully with other humorous episodes: Arielle’s children express their joy that Brian is their mother’s boyfriend and better yet, Brian’s decision to introduce his traditional parents (Frank Langella and Glenn Close) to Arielle. One of the most heartwarming elements of the film is the cut to plaques on Central Park benches, which are engraved with cute, humorous, and touching dedications. Levin credits producer Bonnie Curtis with this touch, as she challenged him to set the film apart from other New York productions. It’s a brilliant use of found materials and as Levin states, all part of “public domain.” I think they also provide a nice reflection of and juxtaposition to the plot, easing you along on a journey that is real, warm, and surprisingly satisfactory (if not wholly desired) in its conclusion.
As alluded to earlier, Yelchin and Marlohe deliver extraordinary performances. Yelchin exudes a maturity in his attitudes as Brian; Marlohe lights up the screen with a smile that never fails to come across as fresh and lively, worthy of the black and white or classic cinema. Frank Langella and Glenn Close are hilarious as Brian’s parents, as they question practices in NYC such as uncomfortable chairs and the injustice of paying for parking. “5 to 7” is set to hit theaters next year. It’s really a stroke of brilliance by Victor Levin that deserves a wide release and awards. The Virginia Film Festival hit the mark successfully in showcasing the film this year. Virginia is not New York, but it’s certainly for lovers, too.