Overview: An adaptation of a popular musical stage play, The Last Five Years follows the five-year relationship of a young couple through its ups and downs. 2015. Rated PG-13. 94 minutes.
As an adaptation: If you’ve seen a production of The Last Five Years or even just heard the soundtrack, you already know that this is a great story. Much like the joyous beginning of a relationship and the rocky end, the songs range from upbeat and fun to emotional and painful. The Last Five Years was always going to be tricky to adapt. Cathy’s story begins at the end of the relationship and moves backwards through time, all the way back to the beginning. Jamie’s starts with the two meeting and moves chronologically to the end. There’s virtually no exposition and with rapidly shifting timelines, The Last Five Years asks a lot of its audience. On stage, things are easier to follow. Because of the seamless shifting between scenes, even I sometimes got a little confused about where Jamie and Cathy were in time. A simple year caption would have done the trick, but director Richard LaGravenese opts to let viewers work it out on their own.
The directing: Richard LaGravenese doesn’t try anything risky with this film. He keeps it simple and straightforward. Here are the characters. Here are their songs. We need little more, and LaGravenese gives little more. But it isn’t enough. Without the natural intimacy of the stage, something about The Last Five Years feels stale and hollow. It’s tough to put a finger on what went wrong, but this film is off, just slightly, and it never lives up to the hushed brilliance of the stage play.
The cast: Though some were doubtful about Anna Kendrick’s ability to pull of the show’s difficult songs, I found her delightful as ever as Cathy and easily talented enough to handle the music. What her voice lacks in Broadway-style strength, Kendrick makes up for with charm and subtle acting decisions. Kendrick is one of the best in the business, and she proves it in The Last Five Years. In fact, Kendrick is so good that she doesn’t do her costar, Jeremy Jordan, any favors. Though Jordan has the voice to propel Jamie’s songs to stardom, he clearly isn’t a film actor. He’s theatrical and made for the stage, and his over-the-top stage performance is perfectly fine, but feels out of place next to Kendrick. Still, the two ooze chemistry and I found myself believing in their passionate, if doomed relationship.
Overall: The hard truth is that maybe some things simply aren’t made for film, and I fear The Last Five Years is one of them. Though Kendrick and Jordan are charming and LaGravenese doesn’t stray far from the stage version, something just doesn’t connect. The film lacks the heart that the play exudes. It’s still worth a watch, but The Last Five Years won’t stay with you the way the live show would.