VOD film review: The Last Five Years
James R | On 04, May 2015
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan
Is there anything Anna Kendrick can’t do? The Tony and Academy Award nominee seems to have done everything in her 29 years, from playing preening background teen Jessica in the Twilight saga and supporting George Clooney in Up in the Air to mumblecore comedy in Drinking Buddies and Happy Christmas and singing her socks off in a cappella singing franchise Pitch Perfect. Throughout, she hasn’t hit a bum note.
That’s especially true of The Last Five Years. The adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s off-Broadway musical sees Kendrick dust off her larynx once again as Cathy, a young wannabe actress who falls in love with Jamie (Jordan), a young wannabe writer. The show darts back and forth through their 60-month relationship, from first dates to heartbreak, like an episode of Doctor Who by the writers of Frozen. Or, more accurately, like a version of the stage play Constellations, but with songs.
LaGravenese (Going the Distance), who has a history with the stage as well as the screen, shoots it all with a looseness that drifts between past and present seamlessly. At times, the cuts between imaginary sequences and real sets rival Chicago – no mean feat given the relatively low budget – while the director glides his lens over characters’ shoulders mid-conversation to reveal that months have passed and there’s no one standing there.
That fluidity is echoed in the music: Brown’s score is through-composed, giving us rare moments of dialogue between the tapestry of songs. The lyrics stick with you more than the melodies, but they’re wittily written, overlapping and echoing at different points in their romance. “You and you and nothing but you / fresh and undiluted” our pair trill at each other during one blissful exchange, but the power of the moment stems from the fact that we’ve already heard those words half an hour before, during a row about how self-centred Jamie has become.
Brown’s meta approach makes it a musical about musicals as much as it is about romance. That knowingly smart tone puts pressure on the cast to engage our hearts as well as our brains. They do it effortlessly, which is impressive given that there’s barely a second without one of them in front of the camera. Individual songs allows us to sympathise with each person – his infectious career progression, her frustration at him not staying with her on her birthday – although Jordan has to work a lot harder to make his rising-star author not completely loathsome.
While he offers perfectly gelled hair and a gleaming smile, Kendrick runs the whole gamut of emotion, her eyes welling up in one track before glowering in the next. She has a face that’s fascinatingly open, conveying internal conflict with a twitch of the lips. One stand-out number sees her descend into rant about shoes halfway through an audition. “I suck, I suck, I suck,” she cries – a far more relatable crisis than Jordan’s song and dance about not being able to chat up girls in bars now that he’s married.
Together, though, the pair are neatly in tune, convincing even when they have to interrupt bedroom scenes to sing. The roller-coaster ride of ups and downs – of jazz hands and high notes – may intimidate those who don’t like musicals, but this is a sharply scripted, handsomely performed show-stopper that, in the privacy of their own home, will have many audience members trying hard not to sing along.