The Last Five Years (2014) is a film adaptation of the Off-Broadway musical of the same name by Jason Robert Brown. The film was written and directed by Richard Lagravenese and stars Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Up In The Air) and Jeremy Jordan (Broadway’s Newsies, TV’s Smash).
The story follows the rise and fall of the five-year relationship between struggling actress Cathy Hiatt and novelist Jamie Wellerstein. Like the musical, the film is sung through, which means that the story is told entirely through song. The film (unlike the musical, which I have not had the pleasure to see) does have a couple of spots where there is brief dialogue, but they are absolutely minimal. And here, unlike in the stage production, the characters actually get a chance to interact with one another, which adds another bit of depth to the material. (On stage, they each tell their side of the story directly to the audience and only interact once).
What sets the story apart, however, is that it is not told in chronological order; Cathy’s arc begins at the end of the relationship and moves backwards, while Jamie’s arc starts at the beginning and moves forwards. The viewpoints alternate throughout the film, with the two stories intersecting in the middle, at the point where the characters get engaged and then married.
Overall, the film is beautiful… and heartbreaking. The score is modern and poignant, and a few of the tunes are the kind that have a tendency to stick with you. I will definitely be buying the soundtrack to the film later this week. And there is no doubt that the beauty of the film lies in the performances of the two leads. Especially when it comes to light that the performances were all captured live. No lip-syncing here.
To steal a line from Jordan’s Bonnie And Clyde on Broadway co-star, Laura Osnes, Jeremy Jordan can sing the crap out of anything and doesn’t disappoint here. The emotion that he brings with just his voice alone is incredible, and there is a reason that he is considered one of the top talents on Broadway (and is completely wasted as sidekick Winn Schott on The CW’s Supergirl. But that’s a rant for another day!) His rendition of ‘Nobody Needs To Know’ makes you want to both hate him and hold him, all in the same breath. Kendrick is excellent in the flashier role of Cathy (she gets the more memorable songs of the bunch) and proves that she is the whole package once more. The nuance and subtlety of her performance makes it a must see.
The only problem I had with the film was that it seemed to get a little muddled in the middle. A couple of times I felt myself a little lost as to where exactly we were in the timeline, which is one of the issues with having the leads on screen together. It was a mad scramble to see if they were wearing wedding rings to try and place the scene. This is a minor complaint, however and will probably work itself out during rewatch.
The film doesn’t fit in the happy, all-is-right-with-the-world box that most musicals find themselves in. Neither character is exceptionally likeable, and yet their inevitable end still breaks your heart. It’s raw and real and oh so resonant to anyone who has ever made the wrong choices, for reasons that they felt were right, in a relationship and had their heart broken in the process.