The Last 5 Years by Tony award winning composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown is a musical deconstruction of a love affair and a marriage taking place over a five year period. Jamie Wellerstein is a young, talented up and coming Jewish novelist who falls in love with Cathy Hiatt, a Shiksa Goddess struggling actress. Their story is told almost entirely through songs using an intercutting time line device; all of Cathy's songs begin at the end of their marriage and move backwards in time to the beginning of their love affair while Jamie's songs start at the beginning of their affair and move forward to the end of their marriage. They meet in the center when Jamie proposes.Written by
This movie will appeal to viewers who already adore musicals but will not win over any new fans to the genre.
Part of my resolution to have a movie review blog was to watch movies I wouldn't otherwise see, and "The Last Five Years" is not a movie I would've seen in theaters but I might have picked it up on DVD or if it was Netflix. I'm not a hater of musicals in the least, and I'm not one of those who doesn't like books or musicals turned into movies, but this movie is one reason why those people exist and why it's easy to criticize the adaptation.
The movie tells the story of a young Jewish novelist and a struggling actress he falls in love with. The plot and characters have an obvious appeal to people in musical theater, something I've learned to expect in any modern musical similar to how novelists like to have their main characters be novelists or bookstore owners (or both). The annoying part of this movie is that it's all the movie is. If I had to sum up the movie it'd be two people in creative lines of work with varying success having passionate, almost over-the-top duets. And that's the entire movie. And it's all sung (which I'm not outright against since it worked so well in "Umbrellas of Cherbourg").
Jamie is the younger, more successful, more arrogant novelist in the relationship while Cathy seems to have more charm and personability though she can't seem to get a break in her career. Questions of resentment and female independence in her career (and the comments seem to be just token nods) arise for moments though it sinks back down in the quicksand of necking that the two characters seem to do way too much.
What's innovative about how the story is told, though (and I see this as one of two of the movie's redeeming aspects) is that the plot moves in two directions, one from the beginning with Cathy's memories of their marriage, and the other where Jamie's memories are told from the beginning. Something's to be said for how men and women remember relationships different, what they saw as the best moments and what they saw as the worst. The film does play favorites with Cathy, though which is no surprise given the history of plots in musical theater and their primary demographic.
The second strong part of this movie is Anna Kendrick's performance. I was dubious at first but she carries herself well and has more nuance in her character portrayal than her male co-lead. Her voice is good, not great, and her acting ability supplements her singing very well.
The main problem with this movie is tone. Yes, it's a rehashing of a romance from memory from two perspectives, but it is all singing, and all centered directly around romance depicted in a small set of actions between two actors. It's the false idea that anything worth telling about a relationship must be the romantic interactions, as if there wasn't anything else worth recalling about two people being in love. And by romantic interplay I mean talking through transitional points in the relationship, fights about expectations and communication, and physicality (which may seem broad but it doesn't come across as such in the movie). That's 99% of the movie and everything the characters do revolves around that strong theme. The problem is that it's too strong of a seasoning. It's where a spice becomes the meat and you miss the stable taste of flesh rather than a watery stock or sprinkling of flavor. It's like George Lucas yelling "faster and more intense" to his actors in the first Star Wars movie without any further direction. I imagine the director doing a similar thing with the two leads in this, "passionate and more in love" which inevitably will lead to an overbearing depiction of the same thing we've seen throughout the movie. This movie will appeal to viewers who already adore musicals but will not win over any new fans to the genre.
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