In present day, Cathy (Anna Kendrick) is a struggling actress who is at her wits-end in her current relationship of five years. We find her at the tail end of the story as she finds a note saying that her husband is leaving her. Concurrently, Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) is a budding writer who’s just begging 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 going the opposite directions and we get a glimpse into their relationship through song and dance.
The Last Five Years is an all-encompassing look into a five-year relationship’s ups and downs, all through the method of singing the story. Rather than jumping from one big event to the next, as most films about degrading relationships do, this film looks at the smaller moments that snowball into the larger moments. The idea to have the film (and stage play) going forwards and backwards could have made things incredibly confusing, but it instead works beautifully as we see both characters at different places in their lives and get their unique perspective as to what went wrong.
Anna Kendrick, one of the fastest rising stars, completely commands the screen with her voice, as well as her presence. Her portrayal of Cathy is something we haven’t seen from Kendrick onscreen, but her musical theatre history really shines through here. 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 really immerses herself in the role and makes this film as strong as it is.
Jeremy Jordan, one of the biggest Broadway stars right now, brings something entirely different to the screen than Kendrick does. Whereas she has had more time on camera, Jordan brings that feeling of live theatre to the screen and it’s absolutely electrifying. His strong voice holds up against Kendrick’s, but also stands alone as we see him become more about himself than the relationship. 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” really exemplify the lasting effects of a degrading relationship.
Having not seen the musical on-stage, nor having heard any music, this film was a welcomed surprise with a vast range of songs that appealed to different parts of me. More than that, you can always tell where they’re at and what they’re thinking in the relationship with what’s being sung. 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 is more known for his writing of The Fisher King, Behind the Candelabra, and more recently Unbroken. He did direct P.S. I Love You and Beautiful Creatures, but this film is unlike anything he’s ever worked on. Bringing a musical to the big screen is not easy and so much can be lost within the process, but LaGravenese really does capture that magic of stage performance. While watching the film, everything feels so real and authentic because he had the stars singing live, much like Tom Hooper did with Les Miserables. This adds so many layers to this film and it really benefits from his fun style of direction. His close-ups give us more emotional depth from the characters and the use of New York as a character really helps put into perspective where the characters are at.
The Last Five Years is everything I adore about musical theatre and it’s a great reminder that you can have a soaring time with only two principal characters. Words cannot accurately express how fitting this role was for Anna Kendrick and she really brings her A-Game with a voice that could make a grown man cry. Jordan, who’s Broadway talents speak for themselves, holds his own and adapts wonderfully to film. He and Kendrick both draw you in and have you caring about them from the beginning. I may be in the minority of those who praise this film, but that’s not something I have an issue with. There’s something magical within this musical and everyone ought to give it a shot.
The Last Five Years Trailer