Film Review: 5 to 7 (★★★★)

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five_to_sevenNot only am I a sucker for a movie that can get genuine emotion out of me, I’m also a sucker for a cinematic surprise. When I first saw 5 to 7 at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, I was absolutely blown away. The film delivered a punch to my gut (and my heart), one that was initially unexpected. Going in, I knew that it was a romance story, but little more than that, and certainly not how funny it was going to be. That being said, writer/director Victor Levin balances out the laughs with some real emotion and some profound sadness, making the rare film of this ilk that can walk that line all but perfectly. Led by a career best performance to date by Anton Yelchin along with a lovely turn by Bérénice Marlohe (not to mention whip smart and amusing supporting roles for Glenn Close, Frank Langella, and Olivia Thirlby), 5 to 7 was one of last year’s most surprising films, bar none. Not just the best movie of Tribeca 2014, it now becomes the best thing I’ve seen in 2015 so far. This flick has something real to say about love and what the act of falling in love does to a person. The details of the story itself may be a bit unique, but the moral and the emotions that encompass it are universal. I’m not ashamed to admit that while I laughed a lot during the first half, there were a few times during the final moment where I got choked up, and one part of the last scene brought on the tears. 5 to 7 earned those tears too. Hopefully, it can earn a lot more as the year goes on.

The story begins on a light-ish note by introducing us to Brian (Yelchin), a New Yorker in his mid 20’s struggling to make it as a writer. One day, while out on a walk in the streets of Manhattan, he passes by the St. Regis Hotel and spots a rather beautiful woman. He works up the courage to cross the street and talk to her, learning that her name is Arielle (Marlohe) and that she’s a French woman who has a smoke break at the same time each week. Immediately smitten with her, Brian meets Arielle again and they go on a date, which Brian thinks is going well enough until Arielle reveals that she’s married to a French diplomat and has two small children with him. Brian thinks that’s pretty much the end of it, but Arielle is hoping to take Brian as a lover, much like her husband has done with book editor Jane (Thirlby). After some thought, he’s in, despite the utter bewilderment of his parents Sam (Langella) and Arlene (Close). Everything is wonderful, though only between the hours of five and seven each night. He even is friends with her husband Valerie (Lambert Wilson). Eventually though, that’s not enough for Brian, and feeling that Arielle is in love with him too, he makes an all or nothing play for her heart that changes everything. 5 to 7 may begin as something you might have seen before, but it quickly goes in a very different direction.

5-to-7It’s no secret that I’ve long been a fan of Anton Yelchin, but he’s never been better than he is here in this film. Not only is he very amusing and perfectly plays a struggling young New York would be novelist, but he hits the sadder emotional notes in a way that will just blow you away. In a just world, Yelchin would be a Best Actor contender later on this year for this performance. It won’t happen, but it should. The chemistry he shares with both Bérénice Marlohe and Olivia Thirlby is terrific to witness as well, especially in the case of Marlohe, with whom he has a tremendous romantic vibe. Marlohe is strong as well, helping to sell an admittedly foreign concept in such a way that you can see the appeal of it. Thirlby’s character could have become little more than a plot device, but her performance and the writing as well combine to prevent that. Glenn Close and Frank Langella put an amusing spin on the time honored tradition of jewish parents in cinema, while other supporting players include the aforementioned Lambert Wilson as well as Eric Stoltz, David Shannon, and Jocelyn DeBoer, to name just a few. This is Yelchin’s show though, through and through, so it’s a joy to watch him shine.

Victor Levin has had a long career as a screenwriter, but nothing in his previous filmography (except perhaps his work on Mad Men, though I’ve yet to catch up on that show) suggests the sort of brilliance that his screenplay depicts here. Likewise, for a directorial debut, this is just fantastic stuff. Levin has a great feel for mixing comedy and drama that many a veteran filmmaker has struggled with. In fact, the tone is decidedly light for the first half of the movie, before getting to a deeper place. It’s only in the third act where things take a very serious turn, going in a direction that not many flicks would dare to go, especially with potential rom-com trappings at the beginning. Levin was able to bring out tears of mine without any manipulation, so that should tell you something. I’d love to see Levin’s script for 5 to 7 get into the Best Original Screenplay conversation when that develops later on in the fall, even if I know that it’s a long shot.

Simply put, 5 to 7 is the best thing I’ve seen so far in 2015, with only It Follows really coming close to challenging it for the crown (though honestly I sometimes consider them tied in a 1a and 1b type situation). With an awards worthy script and lead performance from Yelchin, this is a damn near perfect bit of cinema. My first four star review of 2015 is an absolute must see, even a full year after first laying eyes on it. I’ll be banging the drum for 5 to 7 all throughout the year, but for now, be excited that you can finally see it for yourself and fall in love like I did…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!