THE LAST FIVE YEARS Review

Based on the stage musical written by Jason Robert Brown and adapted for the screen by Richard LaGravenese (PS, I Love You) The Last Five Years is a story of love and falling in and out of it. It is a simple premise with intricate emotions and lyrics to describe them as such. It is quite an achievement Brown has accomplished by so seamlessly weaving together interesting and compelling words that often rhyme to create these two distinct personalities taking part in the documented relationship. I'd never heard of the off-Broadway production until recently when the trailer for this film premiered. In that it is simply "about" a relationship between a hip New York couple told through musical stylings we automatically assume that all is not as clear as it appears and that the film and the story itself is more a deconstruction of this relationship at the heart of things and how the two sexes, these two competing personalities come to contribute to something that we know from the beginning ultimately doesn't work out. Like any film with a standard premise that might fall into at least one tired genre it is up to the creators to innovate and execute their story to a different, fresh level in a fashion that still conveys the small emotions and moments they wish to describe but in a way that will not feel as clich├ęd and banal as every other piece of art that wants to say the same thing. The biggest obstacle with going after a goal such as this is the risk of your final product coming off boring and worst of all, obvious. The good news is that, despite not reading any reviews of the stage play, I doubt The Last Five Years has ever been criticized with either as it is clear from the beginning the skill and precision that has been labored over to correctly elicit the feelings and moments that come to light in the relationship of our leads, Jamie and Cathy, as most in attendance will have experienced their own versions of what they're seeing. Brown's hook, his innovative push that LaGravenese projects with seemingly little effort though is the structure and inner-dialogue the songs bring to life in a way that rings truer to the emotions we're feeling in such moments than our talking voice could ever relay.

Cathy (Anna Kendrick) is an aspiring actress in NYC who can't seem to catch a break.
If one doesn't know the structure going in it could come off somewhat confusing at first I imagine, but it is simple enough to pick up on after the first couple of scenes. In that first scene we are introduced to Cathy (Anna Kendrick) as she sits alone in an empty apartment essentially mourning the loss of her husband in her life. This sorrowful scene is quickly juxtaposed by Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) singing of how happy he is to be finally dating someone outside his Jewish heritage. And so, we meet Cathy at the end of their love affair and Jamie at the very beginning. The two work alongside one another, Cathy going backwards in time and Jamie moving chronologically through it. This could of course be meant to represent the overall mentality of the individuals in that Cathy wants to remain in a state of relatively inconsequential times that will mean the most later while Jamie, ripe with success at a young age wants to do nothing but continue to move forward. The structure of going from scene to scene, from one point in time to another and keeping up with the headspace of where each character is at in any given moment can become somewhat exhausting if you think too hard about it, but the upside is that the choice to make this a musical actually comes into play here in that the inherent tone makes one feel as if they don't have to take what is going on with much of a heavy hand and are reassured of the emotional tone by the timbre of the songs that are sung in each situation. Whether it is Cathy making an argument for why they can try to make things work or Jamie attempting to convince both Cathy and himself that he still believes in her despite the harsh fact she is being unsupportive of his flourishing career because hers is failing-the truth in the quality and pitch of the two leads voices conveys more than any standard dialogue might do allowing this to rise from the mediocrity of a melodramatic romantic drama to the study of a relationship that really packs a punch.

In coming at things from the perspective of the actors doing a fair amount of the heavy lifting it has to come down to how convincing both Kendrick and Jordan are in their respective roles. Kendrick, who has discovered a niche for herself as of late doubling as an actress and singer continues her winning streak with her portrayal here. It is a curious thing to wonder about how biased the writing of this script was as the story was apparently heavily inspired by the real-life relationship between Brown and his ex-wife, Theresa O'Neill. There is bad blood between them, obviously, if their relationship ended anything like that of the one in the film and though the story attempts to bring out the many mentally frustrating things that Cathy might have done to push Jamie away it is something of a testament to Kendrick's performance that we feel a greater empathy for Cathy than the male perspective mainly due to the fact he comes already perched on a hill. Viewers don't like to see someone who thinks they're better than others be the winner and, intentional or not, Jordan's Jamie carries an air of arrogance about him that never likens the audience as much to his plight as to Cathy's. I'm sure Brown might argue that Jamie is filled more with pride than anything and giving him credit he acknowledges the temptations Jamie encounters after getting married and the anxiety he feels in not being able to follow through on much of what he now sees as a restricted playing field, but it all seems to come with the territory of who this guy is from the beginning rather than ever believing he was a good guy in the first place. I don't know that this is Jordan's fault in particular or if the character has always been written this way, but one of the few downfalls I took away from the film was the fact that, despite her flaws, I always felt the place of sincerity that Cathy was coming from in all her complaints both valid and not so much. With Jamie, his wrongdoings come simply from the choices he makes and not from what he feels because of Cathy's actions leaving this story that hinges on two point of views feeling somewhat one-sided.

Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) and Cathy ride high in their honeymoon phase.
Getting away from the fact of this being a musical and the dynamics of the story that compel us backward and forward to better understand the complete picture of this relationship the question I'm left wondering is what I took away from The Last Five Years as a film? It is, admittedly, an odd question given that its musical classification and relationship dynamics are at the heart of this existing, but strangely enough it feels like there is something more going on here. Something a little deeper to appreciate and I couldn't quite tap into what it was as I sat experiencing the film. I'm still not sure I can do any better post-viewing, but if I were to come to any satisfactory conclusion it would be that I continued to be impressed at the artistry involved in pulling something like this off. Knowing this was heavily based on real life experiences and incredibly personal aspects of the writers life it is almost unthinkable that he was able to break down the thousands of days and millions of hours he spent with his wife into an hour and a half tale that conveys all the highs and lows of their relationship in a symbolic fashion that might represent the gamut of emotions they both ran during their time together while at the same time telling this in a fashion that would make sense to someone not as close to the situation. It is a more difficult task than one might imagine upon first glance and while the cynic might criticize the writer for exposing his pain in exchange for his success the optimist would likely see this as his only outlet to get through the pain of what we see represented in the eventual product. To go one step further and put these feelings and complications to melody is an even greater task I can't fathom, but it is done with such precision and care it almost makes me forgive the lack of empathy for Jamie I felt throughout knowing his inspiration was the man behind the pen. In the end, The Last Five Years is a musical that hits on something real and does so in a way that doesn't feel ridiculous because of its constant song, but more in tune with its emotions because of it.