Guest contributor Bobby McGuire reviews the screen adaptation of The Last Five Years.
With one lane of traffic driving exuberantly into the future and the opposing lane headed into the past fueled by remorse, the saying “love is a two-way street” was rarely more apropos than when used to describe The Last Five Years, director Richard LaGravnese’s artful film adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s chamber musical. Brown’s recent Broadway credits include Honeymoon in Vegas and last season’s short-lived The Bridges of Madison County.
Originally produced Off-Broadway in 2002, the musical two-hander that deconstructs a failed five year relationship, starred newly crowned Broadway diva Sherie Rene Scott and then up and comer Norbert Leo Butz. It has since garnered a cult following, become a favorite of stock and regional theaters around the country and recently enjoyed a well-received Off-Broadway revival. Its latest incarnation is an unlikely but ultimately satisfying screen adaptation starring Academy Award-nominee Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods) and Tony Award-nominee Jeremy Jordan (Smash, Newsies).
There are no spoiler alerts to be issued with The Last Five Years, the story of ill-fated lovers Cathy and Jamie. He’s a rising star novelist and she’s an actress with a faltering career and some serious self-confidence issues. Cathy’s story begins with their break up and moves backwards to the couple’s first date, while Jamie’s takes the opposite route. The film hopscotches through time and alternately the audience sees them grow from infatuation to disillusionment and vice versa. The film is almost completely sung through with the characters rarely breaking into dialogue.
Anna Kendrick, who has been on a movie musical hot streak with Pitch Perfect and Into the Woods under her belt, tackles the challenging role of Cathy with aplomb. Alternately brooding, enthusiastic and often self-deprecating, Kendrick’s sweet quirkiness balances out the negative maudlin and harsh-edged first impression the audience gets from the character when we meet her at her low point. As the glad-handing Jamie, Jeremy Jordan skillfully juggles his character’s arc from sweet natured goofball to guilt ridden philanderer. Their onscreen chemistry is undeniable and as a result, the audience yearns for this relationship to work out. Alas, this is not to be.
Fans of the show will be thrilled to know that unlike most stage to screen adaptations, Jason Robert Brown’s delightful score remains intact. Considering that the film is 90 minutes of watching love deteriorate from alternating perspectives, this could be considered by some both blessing and curse. What felt a perfect length on stage admittedly, feels almost a tad long on screen.
The filmmakers took a gamble bringing this property to movie audiences. The last art house musical to hit the screen was 2001’s Dancer in the Dark starring Björk. For its theatrical release, The Last Five Years will be playing in small screen cinemas in New York and Los Angeles while becoming immediately available to VOD home viewers everywhere else. In an age where big names and even bigger marketing campaigns are attached to the still risky genre, it’s refreshing to see a movie musical concerned more with integrity than box office returns.
The Last Five Years isn’t for everyone and requires a fair amount of work from its audience. The back and forth storytelling device is much unlike repeatedly picking at a scab only to watch the wound heal all over again. But isn’t that what we all do when we reminisce on love?
Bobby McGuire is the managing editor and associate publisher at EDGE Media Network.