REVIEW: The Last Five Years

15 02 2015

The Last Five YearsTransferring a great musical from stage to screen is a loftier task than many viewers realize, and many a great show is rendered mediocre by the transition.  The challenge always remains the same: finding something cinematic in the piece and making sure that it never simply becomes “filmed theater.”

This was a particularly daunting leap for Richard LaGravenese when adapting Jason Robert Brown’s musical “The Last Five Years” for the big screen.  The show is quite literally a two-hander, allowing speech and song only from a man and a woman inside a romantic couple.  The theater provides a natural habitat for this kind of story since the intimacy and the immediacy of the medium corresponds with the sharp focus on the duo at the center of the show.

Further complicating matters, “The Last Five Years” is like “Les Misérables” in its nearly completely sung-through script.  Trying to embed an unnatural form of human communication into a completely natural situation can prove tricky indeed.  So a tip of the hat is due to LaGravenese for somehow managing to make most of the musical numbers feel believable enough not to raise major questions while watching.

The film’s writer and director does not deserve all the credit for that, however.  So much of “The Last Five Years” seems authentic and emotionally resonant because of the work done by Anna Kendrick.  She stars in the film as Cathy, an actress trying to get by doing what she loves while her boyfriend Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) soars to the top of the bestseller charts with his debut novel.  Technically, the songs are divided equally between the two of them, but make no mistake about it: this film belongs entirely to Kendrick.

Anna Kendrick Last Five Years

“The Last Five Years” begins by catching Cathy in a melodramatic moment of self-pity; it’s the kind of pouting number made for people who love to hate musical theater.  The film then moves backwards chronologically through her rocky relationship (Jamie’s songs, contrastingly, move forward in time) and winds up at the same place as the outset.  The second time around, though, the cumulative effect of watching Cathy’s development for 90 minutes makes for an absolutely devastating conclusion.

If there was any lingering doubt that Anna Kendrick is one of the supreme talents of her generation after “Up in the Air,” all ought to be dispelled by “The Last Five Years.”  In anyone else’s hands, these songs might have seemed like just that: songs, an artificial means of conveying her sentiments.  Kendrick makes her numbers feel like a personal conversation of great depth that just happen to come with musical accompaniment.  B2halfstars



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