Thursday, March 5, 2015

Movie Review: The Last Five Years starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan (2015)

Poster for The Last Five Years, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, 2015.

The Last Five Years is an innovative musical by Jason Robert Brown that debuted Off-Broadway in 2002. Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan star in the movie adaptation, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, and is now enjoying a limited release in the United States. The Last Five Years tells the story of novelist Jamie and actress Cathy, who marry and separate during the film. Both Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan give outstanding performances in the movie. They have excellent chemistry together and are both amazing singers. The toothy and winsome Kendrick has appeared in several musicals, and The Last Five Years appears in the middle of three musical films in a row for her, following Into the Woods, and preceding Pitch Perfect 2. Jordan has appeared in several musicals on Broadway, including Bonnie & Clyde and Newsies. He also starred on NBC’s musical drama Smash. Although The Last Five Years was dumped into theaters during the bleak month of February, Kendrick and Jordan could have an outside chance at scoring Golden Globe nominations, since they give good performances in a musical drama.

The twist in the plot of The Last Five Years is that while Jamie’s story moves forward in time from their first meeting, Cathy’s story runs backwards in time, beginning with their separation. As performed on stage, Jamie and Cathy sing their songs separately, and they never interact with each other except for the song about their wedding, “The Next Ten Minutes.” While that’s an unusual storytelling device that works very well on stage, it would be an awkward way to make a movie. Richard LaGravenese, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, wisely allows Jamie and Cathy to interact during the songs, but he keeps the spirit of the musical alive by preserving the unique chronology. Unfortunately, unless you already know the show, the chronology isn’t immediately clear. The trailer for the movie doesn’t help matters either, giving no sense of the unique structure of the movie. After the first song, “Still Hurting,” all LaGravenese needed to do was just insert something saying, “Five years earlier,” and then people would understand that Jamie’s first song reflects the early stage of their relationship. 

My only problem with the movie was the shaky camera work during some songs, which quickly drove me nuts. Get a Steadicam! LaGravenese is also fond of very odd compositions, with Kendrick and Jordan at opposite ends of the screen and lots of space between them. Maybe this was his way of showing the space between Cathy and Jamie?

I like that The Last Five Years doesn’t present the end of Cathy and Jamie’s marriage as one party’s fault. It’s really both of their faults, and I think it’s more realistic that way. One of my favorite quotes concerning the end of a relationship is from the ever brilliant John Updike. In the introduction to his book Too Far To Go: The Maples Stories, which chronicles a marriage that ends in divorce after twenty years, Updike writes: “That a marriage ends is less than ideal; but all things end under heaven, and if temporality is held to be invalidating, then nothing real succeeds.” 

If you’re a fan of movie musicals, go out and see The Last Five Years. You’ll enjoy the superb performances of Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan.

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