The film industry is no stranger to musicals, but their string of musical films that have graced our screens over the last decade have been very popular Broadway shows, Into the Woods, coming out this December, being no exception. So it’s a bit refreshing when writer and director Richard LaGravenese (Behind the Candelabra, P.S. I Love You) decides to adapt a popular, but generally unheard of to the general public, off-Broadway musical to the screen. The Last 5 Years is about 95% made up of music and lyrics, with very little dialogue sprinkled here and there. The film is fun, beautifully shot, sad, and lets the songs do all the talking.
The musical tells the story of the 5-year love affair between Cathy (Anna Kendrick) and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan). This is obvious by the title, but what isn’t so obvious is that Jason Robert Brown, who penned all the music and lyrics, tells each of their stories differently, one moving forward, the other backward, and only intersecting in the middle. We open with Cathy, sitting in the apartment, mourning the loss of Jamie. When we first see Jamie, he’s just met Cathy and they are happily falling in love. The songs are sung individually, Kendrick and Jordan only singing together as their individual stories merges in the middle and at the very end. Very well done and clever.
Whenever Cathy is singing, we know we’re moving backward, and vice versa when Jamie is doing the singing. It all flows extremely well without using a lot of dialogue. We’ll notice that even the color palette for the characters is different throughout the film. When starting backwards with Cathy, her color scheme is very dark and moody and begins to brighten as we move toward the beginning. Jamie’s is, of course, the opposite, with his colors starting off bright and getting darker.
According to LaGravenese, eleven of the fourteen songs are sung live, which is just fantastic. What’s also an extra gem is that both of the actors come from a musical theater background and most definitely brought that training with them. Both Kendrick’s and Jordan’s voices are amazing and when you find out they’re singing live for most of the film, it’s even more remarkable. The two of them also have really great chemistry, which proves useful for the happier songs. It’s even believable when they’re fighting and makes the unhappier songs even sadder to watch.
LaGravenese, an admitted musical theater geek, adapts The Last 5 Years with love. There aren’t any major theatrics in the film, no over-the-top acting. It’s solid, simple, and sticks to the lead characters without involving anyone else. The actual musical is monologue-style, where the characters sing out towards the audience and never to each other, so it’s definitely a nice touch that LaGravenese has Kendrick and Jordan interact with each other, making the story, and the music, all the more powerful. The setting, the cinematography, and the lead actors are all fantastic and really a packaged deal. The film is a very well-done musical that will hopefully draw a larger audience when it gets a wider release.