The Last Five Years Review
I suppose I should be upfront about something right from the get-go: I’m not overly fond of romance. Or to be more specific, I’m not fond of the way that all modern romantic dramas hit the same beats over and over. Guy meets girl, there’s love, misunderstandings, and it seems like it either ends in happiness or somebody cheating on the other, or someone dying. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and I do like it when romance films try to do something different, like 500 Days of Summer. However something I am fond of is musicals, so surely a musical starring Pitch Perfect and Into the Woods’ Anna Kendrick could be enough to make me look past my usual dislike for the romance genre?
We journey through the relationship and marriage of Cathy (Anna Kendrick) and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan), a young couple living in New York City. She’s a hopeful actress, he’s an aspiring writer, and when Jamie gets the success he’s been waiting for, Cathy can’t help but feel a little left behind.
The format of the The Last Five Years, music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, is an interesting one. Each half of the couple sings songs from their point of view on the relationship, but where Jamie’s songs take us through the relationship chronologically, Cathy’s songs start at the very end of the relationship and go in reverse back to the beginnings, with an overlap in the middle. Director Richard LaGravenese even adds to this device by having the songs from the beginning of the relationship have a lot more brightness to them while the sadder songs are tinged blue-grey. It’s a nice little touch that helps ground the audience in where in the timeline of the relationship the scene is taking place. The two main performances are excellent, Anna Kendrick proving that she has a serious set of lungs on her and could very well be the kind of major movie singing and acting star that we haven’t had for some time. Broadway star Jeremy Jordan is unsurprisingly solid, charming and likeable on screen as we see the younger, goofier Jamie, and then slowly becoming more egotistical and selfish as the film goes on.
The songs themselves are also a nice mixture of sweet and fun, and emotional, expressing the various joys and heartbreaks associated with young adult life. Personal highlights for me were Cathy’s opening song “Still Hurting” and her ballad of love/hate to “A Summer in Ohio” that she sings over Skype to Jamie (a nice update from being a letter in the stage show). That song, along with Jamie’s “Moving Too Fast”, are the only numbers in the film that have a sense of typical musical choreography to them, making it less over the top than something like Mama Mia, but also not quite as raw and natural as Once.
My only real issue with the film is one that goes back to my problems with the romance genre; there isn’t much to the story itself. There are not really any surprises to it, but I suppose that’s rather part of the point. Relationships and break-ups are highly emotional, and here we have a film were instead of yelling and screaming about it, they’re singing all their emotion out. Whilst I do appreciate that I still can’t help but wish there was more to their story than things I’ve seen a dozen times before.
The Last Five Years is enjoyable with great performances and songs, but the actual content of the story does fall down from over-familiarity. A good watch for musical fans, but maybe not for people who don’t like romance clichés.