Summary: One relationship, two storylines, lots of music.
I had my fair share of problems with La La Land. I wanted more music to push the plot along, I wanted the relationship to be more meaningful and less negging, I wanted Anna Kendrick in the lead. If I could mash-up elements of La La Land with The Last Five Years, namely the former’s cinematography, editing, and dance sequences, I think I would have the perfect musical.
The Last Five Years is originally a Broadway musical based on writer Jason Robert Brown’s first marriage and told from both perspectives of Jamie, a writer on the brink of success, and Cathy, and aspiring actress (cough- La La?). While Jamie’s timeline moves in in chronological order, Cathy’s begins from the end to the start of the relationship. It’s cute, ambitious, and just weird enough. And they sing live for 94 minutes! Every scene is a moment in their relationship and a song, with very little spoken dialogue.
Ah, yes. That’s my way of saying if you’re not a musical fan, you might get away with enjoying La La Land or Chicago but not The Last Five Years.
The Last Five Years’ success lies in its two leads, Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan of Newsies fame, who play the relationship between Cathy and Jamie quite perfectly. They have a natural chemistry and an abundance of talent between them- even when the songs don’t work (there are some notes that feel out of place but whatever, that’s not on the actors), they are each able to carry it through. Jordan can sing while running and riding a bike! Whenever I see Kendrick in something that involves singing, I just wonder why she’s not making all the musicals- she has a good, but not intimidating voice (better than most actresses featured in musicals today), excellent comic timing, and stage experience. Her tone and cadence are perfect for the songs here. If she doesn’t get cast in Wicked based off this performance alone, so help me Oz!
I did keep muttering to myself, “And the Oscar goes to Emma Stone!” It’s not hard to compare the two performances when Kendrick not only proves she’s a capable singer but provides layers and complexity in her performance. She absolutely carries the movie, managing to hold both her tunes and stay in character. La La Land is carried by its opening scene and teases of great musical moments. Damn you, Academy!
The movie opens on the break-up of the marriage, giving way to seeing the cracks in the foundation of the relationship. Movies with this content sometimes give way to one side over the other, but it’s safe to say that each party had its faults for the marriage’s ultimate dissolution. As each character gives their side through song- either their extreme confidence or doubt in their partner- we get a very clear-eyed vision of their intents and unhappiness.
While this is pulled off extremely well in most scenes, The Last Five Years still misses some things. Most of the songs are well written and either very catchy or beautifully intimate and are impressively shot in one long take. It’s kind of cool that all the songs are their own little vignettes and entertaining as standalone pieces. However, there’s a handful that feel too long or forced in a placeholder sense. Like, “I need a cute song here about how she knows he’s the one here!” Depending on my mood, I would say 3 out of the 14 songs are like this, which isn’t that bad considering at least the majority of this musical is music. Plus, we can really say that the songs and music play an integral role here- it’s a committed musical.
Or. Well. 95% a committed musical. I’ll take it. The only thing that’s lacking is a big song and dance number for Jordan- they tease at one but it doesn’t follow through. Kendrick gets one though- complete with a kickline! There are a lot of really fun numbers in this movie- I wish they had more creative (re: weirder) vision for some songs. Like I wouldn’t have minded if they had suddenly whisked off riding an elephant through a forest or something. Something like the middle act of Across the Universe. The story itself is told in an unusual manner, so it would have felt fairly organic. Instead, the couple drives through part of Brooklyn and… Staten Island. Oh, the humanity!
But there are some real poignant songs/scenes here that are sad and I admit, I felt the tugging of the heartstrings. I think anyone who has doubted a long-term relationship can relate to either party. Even though the events are very specifics, the emotions with which the actors sing as well as the words are universal. I would say if you like Anna Kendrick and you like Pitch Perfect (mostly for Anna Kendrick), you will probably like The Last Five Years.
PS: I haven’t mentioned Hamilton, which is pretty much a must for all musical reviews. There’s a song in here called “Nobody Needs to Know” and this line is sung in almost the same exact melody as the last line of “Nobody needs to know” in Hamilton, Act II’s “Say No to This.” Trivia!