Emotionally wrought The Last Five Years shows how good movie musicals can be
Some actors seem destined to represent a certain genre, and Anna Kendrick is certainly headed that way with musicals. She’s the face of the Pitch Perfect franchise, played Cinderella in the big-budget adaptation of Into the Woods and now co-headlines the stunning The Last Five Years.
The story could technically be classified as a romance, but because it’s about both the beginning and end of a relationship, those feelings of love come and go. Based on a theater production written by Jason Robert Brown that debuted in Chicago in 2001, it follows the journey of Jamie (Jeremy Jordan), a novelist, and Cathy (Kendrick), a struggling actress.
It takes a few songs to completely understand the film’s particular rhythms, but because the songs are so strong, the musical grabs you right away.
But the truly unique aspect is that their stories are told opposite of one another; Cathy’s starts at the end of the relationship and moves backward, while Jamie’s starts at the beginning and goes toward the end. They accomplish this by having the two alternate songs, giving their perspectives of the period they’re experiencing at that time.
Consequently, the film is an enormous seesaw of emotions — right from the start. It opens with Cathy’s singing the heartbreaking words “Jamie is over and Jamie is gone/Jamie decided it’s time to move on” in “I’m Still Hurting” to Jamie, giddy with the initial feelings of love, proclaiming Cathy to be a “Shiksa Goddess.”
It takes a few songs to completely understand the film’s particular rhythms, but because the songs are so strong, the musical grabs you right away. Writer/director Richard LaGravenese did a fantastic job in adapting Brown’s work, giving the film the feel of great theater while also using the medium of film to his full advantage. A sequence in “Shiksa Goddess” in which Jamie literally breaks through his bedroom wall perfectly illustrates how well LaGravenese melded the two worlds together.
None of it would work, of course, if there weren’t two strong actors and singers in the lead roles. Both Kendrick and Jordan are Broadway veterans, so they know how to use their voices to tell a story — which is essential because the story is told almost entirely through song. But they also know how to play to the cameras, a subtle distinction that makes this more than just another musical adapted into a film.
Because of its inherent sadness, The Last Five Years won’t be for everyone. But it’s a must-see for anyone who appreciates great singing and a story that touches the soul.
The Last Five Years opens exclusively at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano on Friday, February 20.