The Last Five Years is a Broadway musical play that could not have gotten a better translation to the big screen. And for fans of the popular show, that is a good thing. But, be warned, the film version starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan is quite different. Sometimes, necessity creates brilliance.
The stage production would not have worked on the big screen. There needs to be a physical connection between our two leads with the film medium. Kendrick and Jordan not only have that, but searing chemistry that is sorely lacking from another movie out this Valentine’s Day weekend, Fifty Shades of Grey.
Jordan and Kendrick are Jamie Wellerstein and Cathy Hiatt. Richard LaGravenese’s (P.S. I Love You) film plays with the time period a little bit in that we know where this relationship is headed. Still, we are more than up to venture back to the beginning to see the simultaneously painstaking, romantic and lovelorn journey of how these two meet, fall in love, get married and then drift apart over The Last Five Years.
This is not just an all-singing musical where all the plot points are delivered via song. It is mostly that way. And normally we’re not the hugest fans of that on the big screen, but here it works. In fact, the soundtrack is something that must be procured. The ebb and flow of a powerful cinematic romance is achieved with the crescendos and decrescendos of the melody and Kendrick and Jordan’s voices are angelic, supremely harmonic and also dramatic. And that last description is the most important.
There’s an art to acting-singing. It’s not just about belting out songs. In movie musicals (and stage musicals for that matter), it is of supreme importance to transfer the emotion of the moment as finely tuned as the notes that are coming out of a performer’s mouth. Let’s just say that Kendrick and Jordan have a gift.
Aiding them in that department is the screenplay by LaGravenese, based on Jason Robert Brown’s musical play. The man’s talent for storytelling is seen in his diverse screenplays, from Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken to Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer. The man knows how to tell a tale and whether his actors are delivering lines or songs, he clearly gets the best out of each one of them.
Our issue with the film is there is a little bit of a disconnect with the Jamie character. The audience can tell that he is somewhat self-centered and perhaps not as committed to this relationship as Cathy is, and that’s fine. All movie romances do not have to be perfect. But the character glides a bit too over to superficial in his interests, and that makes it a tad difficult for the audience to pull for these two to keep the fires burning.
Kendrick is impeccable. She has said that after Pitch Perfect 2, she will not do another musical. We hope there’s an end to that sentence that was not uttered, “For a little while.”
Hearing her in Pitch Perfect, Into the Woods and now The Last Five Years, it is clear that one (of the many) things that she was put on this planet to do is to entertain with her voice. As strong as she is as an actresses, she may be an even stronger dramatic vocalist.
Our The Last Five Years review finds that it is an interesting film to release on the February holiday that celebrates romance. Don’t get us wrong, it is romantic.
What the film does more than anything is serve as a lesson in looking at one’s own place in and contribution to a relationship. It is a two-way street. There isn’t a soul who witnesses this production, whether on stage or on screen, who won’t leave the theater wanting to be a better partner. And that is truly something to sing about.