He wrote for Mad Men and Mad About You. Now, in his directorial debut, he combines dramatic weight with sitcom lightness.
By Josh Bell ’02
[Film] Writer-director Victor Levin ’83 begins 5 to 7 with a whimsical device, showcasing the quirky, heartfelt and sometimes sorrowful plaques that New Yorkers have placed on benches in Central Park in tribute to loved ones. This opening belies the serious drama that follows, an often melan- choly story about a relationship that may have been doomed from the start. Levin began his career as a sitcom writer (most notably on Mad About You) and has written for Mad Men. The movie 5 to 7—Levin’s directorial debut—combines sitcom lightness with dramatic weight.
It starts with struggling writer Brian Bloom (Anton Yelchin), a classic New York cinema arche- type who stares at his computer every day, hoping to say something meaningful. Wandering the city, Brian comes across Frenchwoman Arielle (Béré- nice Marlohe), and is immediately captivated by her beauty. Brian and Arielle have a breezy, win- ning chemistry, and although she’s almost a de- cade older than he is, they seem to have the same outlook on life. Levin shoots their interactions in a series of long, unbroken takes that emphasize the immediacy and intensity of their connection.
The complications arise quickly. The main one is that Arielle is married. She has a tacit agreement with her husband that they are free to conduct ex- tramarital affairs between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m., as is French custom (although not as frequently anymore). Brian is an idealistic romantic, so he’s heartbroken at first, but he’s also far too smitten with this woman to let her get away.
The couple’s awkward arrangement is fodder for comedy when Arielle’s husband invites Brian to dinner at the couple’s opulent home, where Brian meets their two charming young children, as well as his female counterpart in authorized adultery, Jane (Olivia Thirlby). But Levin is not interested in cringe humor, and he never makes jokes at the ex- pense of his characters’ emotions. As Brian becomes more and more attached to Arielle, the movie takes a somber turn, and the early giddiness of their relationship informs the hard decisions they have to make later on.
Characters like Arielle, a sexually open free spirit, are common in indie mov- ies. They often serve as plot devices to aid the emotional growth of male protagonists. While 5 to 7 remains mostly focused on Brian’s per- spective, Levin does not neglect his female lead. The movie’s third act offers a moving look into Arielle’s experience: the relationship is as gut-wrenching and life-changing for her as it is for Brian.
Levin returns to the plaques on the benches with that accumulated wisdom and heartache, and the movie ends on a note that mixes regret, optimism and just the right amount of whimsy.
Josh Bell ’02 is the Las Vegas Weekly film editor.