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5 to 7 is a surprisingly sweet romance between a young New York writer and a married French model a decade his senior.

Thou Shalt Not

Marlohe and Yelchin spend their afternoons together
Marlohe and Yelchin spend their afternoons together

Brian (Anton Yelchin) is 24-year-old wannabe writer living in New York. He papers his walls with rejection letters from the best magazines, yet remains cheerful and undiscouraged in his narration. I’d ask about his finances, but this movie wants to be breezy, not gritty, so we’ll go with it.

Brian spies a pretty woman (Bérénice Marlohe) “in her exile of smoking” across the street. He has seen her there before, every Friday. One day he works up the nerve to talk to her. He’s pretty sure she’s from France so he unearths his High School French and makes an introduction. Her name is Ariele. Brian asks her out.

She replies, in her French accent, “I’m free any weeknight between 5 and 7.”

Here an explanation is required — and the film will give it to you in due time — but it’s not a spoiler to say that “5 to 7” is French code for “extramarital affair.” When Brian learns this, he asks, “do the French set aside other hours for breaking other commandments?”

Meanwhile

Any romantic comedy gives its couple time to let the romance bloom; how those screen minutes are filled varies with the story. Here they are filled with observations on the cultural differences between France and America, during walks through New York.

Ariele and Brian go to the Guggenheim. She looks at Hopper’s American paintings and sees deadness; Brian sees life. She doesn’t understand Americans’ inability to watch a movie without popcorn. He mostly marvels at the casualness of the French affair. It is so open that he eventually meets Ariele’s family, and even her husband’s mistress.

In response, Brian introduces Ariele to his mom and dad (Glenn Close and Frank Langella), who are as shocked by the whole affair as Brian was at first.

As amusing as it is to imagine the openness of French marriages, we all know it can’t end well for everyone. If you’re interested to see who gets hurt, and how this romantic comedy finds its positive spin afterwards, you can buy a ticket and find out for yourself.

Likeable, If You Like It Like That

Watching 5 to 7 I enjoyed it at face value, as a romantic comedy. But it grew on me a little after the fact. The characters are all likeable, which is a rare attribute of a movie about an affair. It’s useful to have someone be unlikeable so that the audience can feel good about it.

But here, everyone has eyes wide open and harbors no hard feeling (at least until the turning point I didn’t mention). Ariele’s husband (Lambert Wilson) is a nice guy. He treats Brian with respect and even introduces him to his influential friends in New York (including David Remnick, a real editor of The New Yorker playing himself).

Yelchin gives Brian an earnest air, smart, confident, but not macho. As Ariele, Marlohe is charming; she’s almost always smiling, a genuinely happy person.

In addition, writer/director Victor Levin (a writer/producer for TV’s Mad Men and Mad About You making his feature debut) adds some interesting cinematic touches, such as long takes, or blocking characters out of view in the slower romantic scenes.

Still, 5 to 7 is not for the cynical nor maybe even the skeptical. In all honesty, I don’t think the French are nearly as quintessentially French — if you know what I mean — as Ariele’s family. But since that’s the whole premise, you’ll just have to accept it. For me, the worst sin was a too-perfect closing scene that feels right, but makes no logical sense at all.

If you’re looking for a romantic comedy and are willing to be swept off your feet a little, you could do worse than 5 to 7. Just remember to expect breezy afternoons.