The Last 5 Years
A musical for musical-skeptics, The Last Five Years hits all the right notes
The Last Five Years is a story about falling out of love. Most viewers will be coming in blind, having never seen the stage production of this off-broadway musical. They may find the intertwining narratives confusing (Cathy’s tells the story from end to beginning and Jaime tells it from beginning to end). Whether you know the story or not, it is easy to get wrapped up in the emotional performances of Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. It is easy to sympathize with and also blame both as you watch one fall in love and the other fall out of it. Their strong vocal performances are sympathetic and impressive. The score and lyrics are natural and easy to follow, making this a great musical for those who don’t necessarily like musicals.
The film opens with a distraught Cathy (Kendrick), sitting alone in her New York home, reading a letter from her husband, Jaime (Jordan). There are no spoilers in this tale, as you discover immediately that their whirlwind romance has ended after only five short years. As we jump, rather abruptly from Cathy’s tearful goodbye song, to Jaimie’s point of view, we are transported back in time to the first day of their relationship. Jordan appears excessively eager, which one might blame on his background on Broadway, and the chemistry between the two is lacking. Yet it is easy to look past this as the scene is really about Jaime and Cathy is merely there as a prop to help elicit his inner monologue.
While some scenes struggle to incorporate song into the diegetic action (one scene comes to mind in which Kendrick serenades Jordan while the two of them are driving, neither of them even glancing at the road), the more intimate scenes are beautifully navigated.
We get both worlds of the musical: flashy broadway-esque jingles with dancing as well as live, single-take performances that illicit emotion and heart-ache. It’s the latter where this film shines. These intimate and raw performances by Kendrick and Jordan especially in the later years of their relationship, feel real to the point where you almost forget they are singing their entire dialogue. The chemistry between the two actors is not always there, but the individual performances are stellar, giving a nod to the original stage production in which the two actors sing the entire play in monologue, only ever standing on stage together once during the show as Jaime proposes to Cathy.
While the film adaptation sometimes feels internally inconsistent, it is easy to overlook it’s flaws and be drawn into the rise and fall of an all too real relationship and you won’t be able to help yourself as you exit the theater humming the catchy tunes.