jordan and kendrick in the last five years

This century has had a rough relationship with movie-musicals. For a minute there, it seemed as though the genre was in for a true renaissance – one that would deliver titles that scored on both an artistic and commercial level. However, the renaissance has stalled. Many of the offerings have missed the mark artistically, commercially, or on several occasions both.

Into these shark-infested waters swims a new offering…

THE LAST FIVE YEARS is the story of Jamie and Cathy (Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick), a couple who are trying to make names for themselves as artists in New York City. Jamie benefits from some good luck and scores huge success as a writer starting at age 23. Cathy’s push to make her way as a stage actor isn’t quite as successful, but that never stops her from continuing her push to make it. Their relationship with each-other is what serves as both their fuel and their rudder, and it’s the story of that relationship that is the focus of this musical.

Here’s the twist; Jamie is telling the story of this relationship chronologically, and Cathy is telling it in reverse.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS is special as a musical in the way it laces its songs with a great deal of honesty. Musical theatre generally tends to be escapism: for every one “Next to Normal”, you get fifteen “Producers”. That’s not a dig, it’s just to clarify a point. The point is that hearing young adults sing about hesitations, reservations, determination, and disillusion cuts far deeper as a result. What’s more, hearing those feelings put to music, and then continually get flanked by expressions of loveĀ and jubilation, allows the audience to really dwell in the true ups-and-downs of any long-term relationship.

However, all of these (truly wonderful) virtues come with a catch. The catch is that these virtues are inherent to the musical itself and the way Kendrick and Jordan sing the songs. None of these emotions are stirred or heightened by the way director Richard LaGravenesse has presented the film. There are no sequences that use cinematic devices like scope, photography, editing, or setting to truly elevate the original material. No sequence has been newly crafted, no set piece has been memorably staged. So if one wants to see this movie simply to “see a movie”, then they won’t find anything especially great here.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a great musical, and if there isn’t a live theatre within an afternoon’s drive that is staging it, this film will make a perfect substitute. However, we need to think about it as a movie. If one isn’t a fan of musicals, I dare say this movie will not convert them. It serves its source material rather well, but never dares to go any further than that.