“Jamie is over and Jamie is gone / Jamie’s decided it’s time to move on / Jamie has new dreams he’s building upon / And I’m still hurting.” These words open Richard LaGravenese’s The Last Five Years. Sung by a heartbroken Cathy (Anna Kendrick) at the close of her five-year relationship with Jamie (Jeremy Jordan), they succinctly inform the audience of what they’re about to endure: a stripped-down musical about the disintegration of a relationship. Starting at the end for Cathy and at the beginning for Jamie, The Last Five Years tells its story nearly entirely in song, which isn’t such a bad thing when the film’s singers are as talented as Kendrick and Jordan.
The performances in The Last Five Years are lovely, as is the music, written by Jason Robert Brown and originally presented as an off-Broadway production based on his failed marriage. Kendrick, especially, comes across as the half of the relationship where the most sympathy lies, and she covers her songs with the same panache she has showcased since belting “The Ladies Who Lunch” in Camp (2003). One of the film’s musical highlights, a Kendrick-voiced song called “A Summer in Ohio,” uses humor and warmth to chronicle just how miserable she is while doing summer stock theater in Ohio as Jamie remains in New York City, working on his burgeoning writing career. Kendrick belts lyrics like, “I could wander Paris after dark / Take a carriage ride through Central Park / But it wouldn’t be as nice as a summer in Ohio / Where I’m sharing a room with a former stripper and her snake, Wayne.” These words are relatable—they transport us, the viewers, into our own relationships, which is why, at its core, The Last Five Years is a thrilling concept: a musical about the frustrating, all-too-real concept of falling into and out of love.
The peculiar thing is that I do not recommend The Last Five Years. The film simply feels unnecessary. Why make a movie version of a musical that works better on stage? The original musical is bare bones; the cast is composed of only two people, the lead characters. While the film features other actors at times, none of them really matter—Kendrick and Jordan dominate the screen for 99.9 percent of the movie’s running time. I can see where this intimacy would lead to an incredibly compelling bit of musical theater; however, it doesn’t translate to the big screen.
Such deeply personal moments seem forced and inconsequential when gussied up with extravagant, movie-style song and dance, and in turn the audience never truly feels sympathy for these characters. If you’re going to adapt a quiet musical for the screen, you must make it more cinematic while still retaining the intimacy of the source material. Instead, when The Last Five Years ends, rather than experiencing a sucker punch to the gut, all that one really feels is… nothing. The relatively straightforward approach LaGravenese takes doesn’t work—something electric is lost. Jamie is over and Jamie is gone, yet all the audience really wonders is, “Who cares?”
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Writer: Richard LaGravenese, based on the play by Jason Robert Brown
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan
Release Date: Feb. 13, 2015
Andy Herren is an adjunct professor and occasional reality show winner. When he’s not lying to people on national television, he contributes to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter. Olive Penderghast is his soulmate.