Brian (Anton Yelchin) braves the rain in order to reunite with Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe) in the smoking nook outside the St. Regis Hotel, the place of their first encounter in the film "5 to 7." Photo Credit: Walter Thomson.

Brian (Anton Yelchin) braves the rain in order to reunite with Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe) in the smoking nook outside the St. Regis Hotel, the place of their first encounter in the film “5 to 7.” Photo Credit: Walter Thomson.

A lot can happen between 5 and 7 p.m. — you can meet a stranger, and then agree to meet again. If you’re French and you like the chemistry of the encounter, you could even book a room at the St. Regis for a cinq-à-sept affair. That proposition might prove more interesting than watching a film about it. Unless the film itself is French, preferably with a palpable star — Catherine Deneuve, are you listening? Unfortunately, 5 to 7, as presented as a Spotlight entry in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, is not that. It’s not even a first-rate soufflé.

So what is it, exactly? It’s a harmless enough romantic romp between a 24-year-old young man of high moral character and a 33-year-old mother of two, who happens to be the wife of a French diplomat. As played by Bérénice Marlohe, Arielle is definitely pretty enough to fill the bill for any potential dalliance and she possesses a dazzling smile. With only a nine-year age difference between the two, this is hardly a May-September coupling. Arielle may be the more experienced of the two, but she still possesses a youthful Gallic glow that suggests she would as soon jump up and down on the mattress of their rented room (which she does convincingly) than lie in it.

As for Anton Yelchin as Brian, the wide-eyed young lover, he looks too innocent to buy a subway ticket uptown, let alone start an affair with a woman he spots taking a smoke break in midday Manhattan. His favorite book is The Little Mermaid. So when the flirtation ensues and he realizes he’s engaging in conversation with a married woman, we can almost believe his incredulous reaction. “In my culture, people are not judged so harshly,” she advises him, and thankfully for this lightweight script, he returns the next day at the appointed hour, his priggishness soon dissolved. Their verbal foreplay turns physical quickly enough, and for the audience that clamors for a whitewashed romance that would almost satisfy the Hayes code in the days when Rock Hudson and Doris Day cavorted to their heart’s content, it should work quite nicely, thank you.

So what is the problem, exactly? In a nutshell, in the world of 2014, it’s dishonest. It gives us a cleaned-up portrayal of an affair that, with barely a wrinkle to all the parties involved, had to end — but happily, mind you, ever after. From a laughably absurd scene whereby Arielle gives her young man a blindfold taste test in wine and he guesses the white to be red, to Brian’s own attempts to ply her with an engagement ring if only she would walk out of her real life, the film rings false. True, Brian’s parents, as played by Frank Langella and Glenn Close, do their best to act the skeptical relatives but become too quickly charmed by their son’s new paramour. And Lambert Wilson (best known as the Merovingian in the Matrix Reloaded) plays a credible husband who tries to put the young upstart he has welcomed into his home in his proper place. The game of infidelity he and his wife have played so smoothly has been upset by a young man who wouldn’t (and couldn’t) play by the rules. “We had an understanding of boundaries,” he tells Brian. But in this happy-go-lucky world that Brian inhabits, a slap to the face for his indiscretions, followed by a ridiculously large sum of money to disappear, is about the extent of his troubles. One of the rare honest lines of dialogue belongs to Arielle, when she tells Brian that “to leave your children is to leave yourself.” At least we know that these two star-crossed lovers will not walk into the sunset together. That would have been tantamount to the final betrayal on the part of filmmaker Victor Levin.

Did I mention that Brian is a would-be writer and in less time than it takes to plaster up another rejection letter on his studio wall, his short story has been accepted by the esteemed New Yorker magazine? And in short order, following the bittersweet breakup with Arielle, his first book, The Mermaid, is decorating the windows of local bookshops? Olivia Thirlby is cast as the young editor that encourages his fledgling genius and even supplies him with groceries when he’s down in the dumps. To her credit as an actress, she manages to play the ministering angel with sincerity and good humor.

There’s an expensive high-gloss feel that Levin’s sensibilities have stamped on his story. This is the same creator who has served as a co-executive producer on AMC’s award-winning Mad Men. Other TV credits as writer and/or producer include The Larry Sanders Show and Dream On. And his casting choices for the supporting roles are rewarding enough. Langella as the somewhat stingy mate to Close and Close herself as the matronly wife, who sends back a chair at the Carlyle Hotel lounge but settles comfortably into her vodka martini, play as smoothly together as Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. It’s a real shame that the script could not have been stretched to give them larger roles. Maybe it couldn’t have saved this bankrupt tale in the end, but it would have made for a much more palatable viewing experience.

Who doesn’t love serendipitous encounters, you ask? The premise is sound enough but it’s the treatment that cloys. It’s as if Levin were spoon fed on every film of the last several decades that tugged on our heartstrings, even if deservedly so. From the first seconds of the film and music’s rise, we are treated to a suspiciously ingenuous narration by our lead character that smacks of Peter MacNicol’s sentimental young man Stingo in Sophie’s Choice. That narration, however, carried us through the film to its heartbreaking conclusion.

Here, we are constantly urged to listen to the oh-so-sincere ramblings of our young hopeful, with an overgenerous intercut of Central Park benches with their loving tributes attached. Then there’s the question of literary success falling so readily into our young man’s lap. It worked for Truman Capote’s Paul Varjak — played with consummate charm by George Peppard — in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Why shouldn’t he get his novel published and get Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly while he’s at it? But then that was Capote and director Blake Edwards who had their way with us and the year was 1961.

There’s plenty of room in today’s cinema for romance. Some would even say there’s been too little of it in the violent and often compromised world we inhabit. But it’s not too much to ask for a little less embellishment of the facts for the sake of the story. A true romance is the best kind of all, even if it only takes place between 5 and 7.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

“5 to 7” had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this past week.

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