The Last 5 Years (2015).
D/W: Richard LaGravenese. DP: Steve Meizler. Music & Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Starring: Anna Kendrick & Jeremy Jordan.
Only in one cinema here in London, I sadly ventured into the most touristy area of the city to sit down for The Last 5 Years. Only for the musical enthusiast, the film is an adaptation of the 2002 Off-Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Tony winning Jason Robert Brown. Not a rock musical rather the film is a tour of the truly integrated musical number as there isn’t much else.
The Last 5 Years is essentially a story in song. With very minimal dialogue, mostly limited to phone calls and the like, the film seamlessly moves from one number to the next. Opening with Cathy (Anna Kendrick) sitting in her New York apartment looking at a letter her husband has left her saying he has taken a bag and left. Thus the film begins with a goodbye to a dead marriage and takes the audience through the last five years of the relationship.
The film is an impressive vocal two handler with the leads essentially alone or only performing to each other for the majority of the musical. In this world song is everything, it is the mundane, it is story-telling, it is romance, and it is also inner turmoil spilling into the frame. Kendrick’s Cathy is a believable wanna-be actress who doesn’t quite believe herself and feels caught in the wheels of life. Her range fits the songs with require a lot of breath control something she must have used to prep for her role in last year’s Into the Woods. Broadway actor, Jeremy Jordan jumps into the role of Jamie with a lot of swish and is able to move Jamie through many chapters of change as he sells a book to Random House. The couple have good chemistry which allows the music to sustain the emotional intensity of the lyrics and neither pulls focus from the other. I am sure a Disney animated franchise is in their futures.
Richard LaGravenese’s last directorial effort was the Southern and lavish young adult adaption Beautiful Creatures. A consistent working writer as well he does not seem to have any specific connection to the Broadway world except through some off-off Broadway experience as an actor when he was younger. That being said The Last 5 Years could not have been tackled by someone not in love with capturing the essence of song as emotional expression. The use of long takes is used many times to capture Kendrick and Jordan who sang most of the songs live. This is clear from the film and adds an intimate layer to the performances despite the cinematic crippling of visceral live performance. Here it is not a gimmick (um, Les Miserables) rather the film is one long stream of breath and sound of emotion.
My only slight gripe is that you never truly see the couple fall in love. There is the song “Shiksa Goddess” where Jamie exudes his happiness at finding Cathy or “I Can Do Better Than That” about Cathy’s dreams not being of the suburbs and with child. However, Cathy sort of appears into Jamie’s life and maybe the rom-com cinematic conditioning I have is asking me, where did they meet? Where’s our getting to know you number? But in the end it doesn’t really matter. The Last 5 Years is right for the right fan in so many other ways.