By Linc Leifeste | October 24, 2014
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Writer: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan
Disclaimer: I love The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain and delight in the oddball Paint Your Wagon, and as a teenager I bizarrely watched every single episode of Cop Rock on TV, but I’m not a big fan of musicals. I went into the opening night Austin Film Festival screening of director Richard LaGravenese’s adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s evidently beloved musical The Last Five Years not knowing what was in store for me. And afterwards, I’m no closer to warming up to the musical genre.
That said, as the ever-brilliant Anna Kendrick knocked her sucker punch of an opening song, “Still Hurting,” out of the ballpark, I momentarily thought I was on the verge of conversion. Playing Cathy, she’s heartbreakingly singing about the ending of a relationship and her emotional rendition drew me in. “Jamie is over and Jamie is gone, Jamie’s decided it’s time to move on.” The Jamie she sings of is played by Jeremy Jordan and the film’s focus is squarely on the two characters and the arc of their five year love affair.
LaGravenese makes the clever choice to structure the film so that Cathy is telling the story of the relationship from her perspective looking backward from the end and moving to the beginning while Jamie is telling the same story from his perspective looking forward from the beginning. It makes for a nice contrast to have her sad breakup song followed immediately by his upbeat song about falling in love. Much like the story of their relationship, the two characters are moving in different directions.
When they meet and fall in love, Cathy is an aspiring actor and Jamie a struggling writer. But as Jamie’s literary career skyrockets, Cathy finds her acting career going nowhere and from such disparity are sown the seeds of the inevitable end of their relationship. Just keep in mind that the whole story is told in song and your reception to it will probably depend largely on whether that works for you. I also suspect that the film’s reception will vary largely depending on perceptions of Jordan’s performance as Jamie. While I found Kendrick’s performance to be nuanced, poignant and moving, I found myself mostly annoyed by Jamie’s character and Jordan’s performance. Belting out his songs, he emotes too much for my taste, a performance style I suspect is more suited to the stage than to the screen, and as a result his performance lacks some of the gravitas and emotional power of Kendrick’s.