Movie Review - The Last Five Years

Oscar-nominee Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) stars as Cathy, an aspiring Broadway actress. She lives in New York and she's struggling. She tries out for plays and musicals, but she hasn't broken into the business yet. She auditions but often trips over her own nervousness. It's not that she's not talented. It's simply a tough industry.

Tony-nominee Jeremy Jordan (Newsies) co-stars as Jaime, a writer who pens a novel or a book that gets picked up by Random House. This propels him into a lot of success and a bit of stardom, while only in his mid-twenties. He's in a relationship with Cathy. In fact, they get married, but his success starts to overshadow her, which bothers her and puts a strain on their lives together.

There have been several films about two people in a relationship and one person's success overshadowing the other. Typically, the two people will be artists but not always. Typically, the two will be in a romantic relationship or sometimes the two will be platonic or of the same gender. Typically, issues of jealousy and insecurity will be explored. Recent music films like Dreamgirls (2006) and Get On Up (2014) are examples.

I was reminded of the recent Oscar-nominated film Begin Again (2014). The difference is that the couple wasn't married and both characters were trying to record albums. Begin Again had Keira Knightley and Adam Levine as the lead characters. Since both films are a lot about the characters singing songs, comparing vocals is inevitable. Both Kendrick and Jordan can belt out the constant show-tunes in this film. Either could conceivably be pop stars. While Knightley could not or should not, neither Kendrick or Jordan can hold a candle to Levine.

Knightley and Levine, however, only had to perform a couple of songs. Yet, Kendrick and Jordan together have a total of 16 songs. Given the running length of this film, it means the singing of those songs is non-stop and there's barely a moment when Kendrick and Jordan are not in some show-tune. A lot of Broadway musicals do this where there is non-stop singing. This can be invigorating or enervating. It's the latter here.

The problem is that the relationship here is not the stuff of legend. The songs that depict the love between Cathy and Jaime are all heightened in their emotions, which is often the point in show-tunes, but they never give us enough details or specifics to convince why anyone should care about this couple.

Written and directed by Richard Lagravenese, the visuals are just as much a part of the storytelling as the songs themselves. Based on the musical by Jason Robert Brown, the Tony-winning composer and lyricist, Lagravenese stays pretty faithful to Brown's layout and doesn't really add or subtract much.

He's able to take a handheld camera and push into the faces of Kendrick and Jordan, as well as encircle them frequently. Yet, a lot of the work here feels constrained to the text and not interested in subtext or super-text. Lagravenese stays surface-level.

The gimmick of Brown's musical is that the story is told in two points of view that oppose each other mainly chronologically. Cathy's point of view is told in reverse chronology, whereas Jaime's point of view is told in forward chronology. This is perhaps clever, but the movie feels like it's more about the gimmick and this construction rather than the actual characters.

For example, Jaime is all lovey-dovey for Cathy and once they get married, he's instantly singing about cheating on her. It's played with all whimsy as most Broadway musicals and snappy fun, but no more about Jaime is learned beyond the superficial. A song he performs later "If I Didn't Believe in You" offers some insight, but it doesn't endear us to him.

What's also problematic is that Jaime as a character is not that likeable. The best performance in the film is Kendrick's singing "See I'm Smiling," which is the movie's third show-tune. However, the song illustrates how horrible Jaime is and not much after helps to lift his character. Even a silly ditty called "The Schmuel Song" can't endear him.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for sexual material, brief strong language and a drug image.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 34 mins.


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