Richard LeGravenese’s (BEAUTIFUL CREATURES) adaption of THE LAST FIVE YEARS, a musical depicting the five-year arch of a love affair between two New York creatives, is a beautiful piece of intimate filmmaking. The courtship of struggling actress Cathy (Anna Kendrick, PITCH PERFECT) and successful novelist Jamie (Jeremy Jordan, SMASH) is a relatable story when it is not a haunting reminder that in real life happy endings do not always happen. Told from the lovers’ dueling perspectives, THE LAST FIVE YEARS eventually meets at a bittersweet middle before the two characters’ stories go off in separate directions again.
The film opens with “Still Hurting,” a crushing introduction to a tear-stained and wrenched Cathy, who is sitting in her broken home thinking back on the last words Jamie said before he left her. Kendrick sings “Still Hurting” from a dark place that must have been hard to shake once the camera stopped rolling. This first musical number throws the audience into Cathy’s experience, and I found it hard not to be emotionally manipulated any time Kendrick appeared on screen. It is just too easy to love her, and if this were not such a simple yet gripping story I would have completely disregarded Jordan’s Jamie.
Jordan adds such graceful light to Jamie, a character who could easily slide into scumbag territory as the film reaches its climax. His story starts at the actual beginning of his romance with Cathy, a woman he explicitly tells he loves because she is nothing like all the Jewish Princesses he dated before her. In his first solo number, “Shiksa Goddess,” Jamie sings at a love-swept Cathy who eats up his every word. The tragedy here is that he is portrayed as having all the control over their relationship, a trait that becomes even more evident as the songs continue. Cathy is always begging Jamie to choose her over career, and Jamie is always pushing Cathy to make good of her talents and finish a creative project.
Neither of them is wrong, in fact both of them try so hard to bring out the best in each other – even if that means pushing their relationship (and each other) to a breaking point.
THE LAST FIVE YEARS’ songs are grounded in the real world even if the delivery is fantastical, as watching anyone break out into song can be super awkward. Luckily the film is told mostly through song and allows us to suspend our disbelief.
Jordan and Kendrick have impressive pipes – both of them appeared on Broadway and have experience doing filmed musicals – but they really shine in the vulnerable moments. They have a surprising chemistry that drives you to root for them to find their ways back to each other, even though we know how this story ends. They are perfectly matched, delightful to watch, and add such intimacy to their songs that it is hard not to fall for a film that could really just be another failed romance. THE LAST FIVE YEARS is special in a way that makes you look at your own life differently, and look back on the lost loves of your youth.