Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Movie Review: The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years
Directed by: Richard LaGravenese.
Written by: Richard LaGravenese based on the musical play by Jason Robert Brown.
Starring: Anna Kendrick (Cathy Hiatt), Jeremy Jordan (Jamie Wellerstein).

Anna Kendrick is the not-so secret weapon of The Last Five Years – an adaptation of an off-Broadway musical about the end of a marriage. The movie, like the stage play, alternates between Kendrick's Cathy and Jeremy Jordan's Jamie, her husband – with her starting at the end of their relationship, where he has left her a Dear John letter and walked out, and he starting at the beginning of their relationship, when they were both younger and couldn’t keep their hands off each other. It’s an interesting structure – and helps keeps the movie interesting. The problem with the movie is that both Cathy and Jamie seem like rather insufferable people – he becomes a successful novelist in his mid-20s, and a literary star who everyone loves, and who has young women throwing themselves at him – she, who wants to be a Broadway actress, but who can never find success – having to spend her summers in Ohio doing regional theater, and who notices that on every audition she goes to, the actresses she is competing with keep seeming younger and younger. He gets a swelled head – buys into his own hype as a genius, and gives into temptation of all those younger women. She becomes fragile and insecure – she doesn’t want to be dragged on behind Jamie, but cannot find the same success in her career that he has in his, so she becomes resentful of him and everything he does.

Perhaps this was the point of the musical – in which the characters hardly ever shared the stage together, instead they each sang alternating songs by themselves, telling their version of events – the ultimate point may be that the two of them just aren’t right for each other, both have their flaws, and it’s smart to walk away. But in the movie version, Anna Kendrick is great in her role that whatever balance there is supposed to be in the movie is thrown out the window. She opens the film with a brilliant song – Still Hurting – in which she hits all the right notes, cries and delivers an emotionally devastating performance. Even as Cathy reveals herself to be a little bit petty, and unreasonable, we never lose sympathy for her – because Kendrick is so lovable, and charming. Perhaps this could be offset if Jeremy Jordan was her match as Jamie – but he isn’t, and seems to go out of his way in making Jamie as big of an asshole as humanly possible.

It's a good thing though that Kendrick is as great as she is in The Last Five Years – because the film itself isn’t nearly as good. The musical numbers are fine – enjoyable while they are playing, but other than the opening and closing numbers, aren’t very memorable (okay, there is a number where Jeremy sings a story about a tailor named Schmul that is also memorable – but not in the way you want it to be). The direction by Richard LaGravenese is fine – his camera is constantly moving, seemingly like another character, eavesdropping on the characters.

But it's Kendrick who is the reason to see the film. This her third musical in recent years – following Pitch Perfect and Into the Woods – and in all three she has transcended the material, and delivered performances better than the movies themselves. Musicals are a rarity in Hollywood these days – they seem to have forgotten how to make them for the most part. If there is hope that there will be another great musical coming from Hollywood at some point in the near future, than it’s Kendrick. She can deliver a great performance in a great musical – someone just needs to give her the chance.

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