Life + Arts Movies

‘The Last Five Years’ soars with superb songs

In present day, struggling actress Cathy (Anna Kendrick) is at her wits’ end in her current five-year relationship. We meet her as the relationship is ending, with her finding a note saying that her husband is leaving her. Concurrently, Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) is a budding writer who’s begging for a relationship that will last five years. He’s just gotten a book deal and is growing more in love with Cathy. As time goes on, the two tell their stories in opposite directions, and song and dance offer a glimpse into their relationship.

“The Last Five Years” is an extensive musical look into a five-year relationship’s ups and downs. This film looks at the smaller moments, which snowball into larger moments that move the story. The idea to have the film (and stage play) going forward and backward could have been confusing, but it works beautifully — both characters at different places in their lives offer unique perspectives as to what went wrong.lastfiveyears

Kendrick, a fast-rising star, completely commands the screen with her presence and voice. Her portrayal of Cathy is something we haven’t seen from Kendrick onscreen, but her musical theater history really shines. Her voice reaches outstanding levels and her dedication to the relationship is evident in every shot, even as she’s hurting. Much of her emotion is felt through her voice and how she inflects it in her songs, which, by the way, are both beautiful and hilarious. She immerses herself in the role and makes this film as strong as it is.

Jordan, one of today’s biggest Broadway stars, brings something entirely different to the screen than Kendrick. While she has had more time on camera, Jordan brings an electrifying live-theater feeling to the screen. He stands alone quite well, but it’s when he’s consoling Kendrick that he’s at his absolute best. “The Schmuel Song” and “If I Didn’t Believe In You” exemplify the lasting effects of a degrading relationship.

Going in without any prior experience with the musical, this film was a welcome surprise with a vast range of songs. More than that, the songs tell where they’re at and what they’re thinking in the relationship. You get the “head-over-heels” songs, the songs about struggles with work and the songs about being more than mildly annoyed with your partner. You also can’t forget the weird, yet undeniably cute songs that resemble the oddities of every relationship.

Director Richard LaGravenese (“P.S. I Love You,” “Beautiful Creatures”) is more known for his writing of “The Fisher King,” “Behind the Candelabra and more recently “Unbroken,” but this film is unlike anything he’s worked on. Bringing a musical to the big screen isn’t easy and much can be lost in the process, but LaGravenese captures that magic of stage performance. Everything feels authentic because he had the stars singing live, much like Tom Hooper did with “Les Miserables,” adding layers to the film, which also benefits from his fun directing style. His close-ups give us more emotional depth from the characters, and the use of New York as a character puts into perspective where the characters are.

“The Last Five Years” is everything I adore about musical theater, and it’s a great reminder that you can have a soaring time with two principle characters. Words cannot accurately express how fitting this role was for Kendrick, really bringing her A-game with a voice that could make a grown man cry, and Jordan holds his own and adapts wonderfully to film. There’s something magical about this musical, and everyone ought to give it a shot.

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