Director: Richard LaGravenese
Music and Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown
Screenplay: Richard LaGravenese
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
There’s no doubt that it is with a mixture of trepidation and as well as anticipation that fans of Jason Robert Brown’s little seen but much-loved, cult, off-Broadway hit, The Last Five Years, will greet the release of Richard LaGravenese’s movie adaptation: what works on stage can often be a damn sight trickier to pull off on screen.
The emotional two-hander charts the disintegration of the relationship of Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) and Cathy (Anna Kendrick), two New Yorkers with big ambitions: his to be a successful novelist, hers, a Broadway star. Its unique take on the typical relationship tale being that the duo’s stories are told in reverse: Jamie’s from optimistic start to end, Cathy’s from agonising end to start, the pair only meeting onstage briefly in the middle, at their wedding.
As Kendrick’s first notes ring out on the show’s most famous, and arguably best song, the heartbreaking “I’m Still Hurting”, you know that, in vocal terms at least, Brown’s cherished work is in safe hands. What is less certain is if newcomers to the musical will pick up on the converging timelines, unlike the stage musical, the pair share the screen in almost every scene, indeed, the penny may only fully drop for many at the very end when Jamie writes the letter we see Cathy reading in the first moments of the movie.
What this screen adaptation does do that the stage can’t, is give full life to the relationship build up and break down, fleshing out the back story, providing atmosphere and life, and it manages, save for a minuscule on-street dance sequence, to keep it very real and resonant. It is a welcome addition to the movie musical theatre library, providing as it does a more relatable work for the contemporary audience.
There’s no trickery in LaGravenese’s direction, it is simplistic, more hand-held camera, docu-drama than glossy Hollywood musical, and though this may be due to necessity because of its small budget, a glitzier approach just would not have worked with this material. The reality is also enhanced greatly asthe whole thing is filmed entirely on location.
Both Kendrick and Jordan are deserving of praise, you would be hard pressed to find a pair more suited to the rôles, and the Tony Award-nominated duo will certainly win favour with musical theatre purists. The witty, melodic songs are given full justice by both leads, but it is Kendrick’s portrayal of Cathy that garners the greatest sympathy: as Jamie is wined and dined, fawned and feted over, she struggles from one unsuccessful audition to the next, his ebullience and soaring ambition in contrast to her frustration, as she increasingly becomes a bystander in their relationship: there’s an inevitability that Cathy was always going to be the one left behind. It is to Brown’s great credit that he manages to successfully convey the female perspective so strongly and resist the urge to excuse Jamie’s descent into adultery.
This painful depiction of a relationship will strike a chord with many and the film remains an affecting piece of work but it never fully captures the onstage emotion and the visceral experience of being in the same room, watching these two people sing their hearts out. Some of the clarity of the stage production is lost in the shared screen time, but existing fans will find much to admire and it might just get some non-fans to look at movie musicals in a new light.
What this movie adaptation does do though, is cement Jason Robert Brown’s place as the rightful successor to his hero Stephen Sondheim.
The Last Five Years was released in the US on 13 February 2015 and will bereleased in the UK in June