94 min - Comedy | Drama | Musical

Review: Matt Mungle

Theater goers have seen several popular and successful stage plays transitioned to the big screen. Musical to movie is not a rare thing. From A Chorus Line and Fiddler on the Roof to Les Mis and Into The Woods. Many have been successful enough to earn critical praise and offer some award winning performances. But are film audiences ready to embrace smaller scale productions and musicals that are slightly less well known? THE LAST FIVE YEARS may be a decent litmus test for that very experiment.

The Last Five Years is based on the musical of the same name and written/directed by Richard LaGravenese (P.S. I Love You ). It tells the story of young lovers Cathy Hiatt (Anna Kendrick) and Jamie Wellerstein (Jeremy Jordan); almost entirely in song. A unique factor that makes this telling intriguing is that it is told from Cathy's perspective starting at the end of the marriage and working backwards while Jamie sings us from the beginning of their courtship. By the time they meet in the middle viewers have not only witnessed the heartbreak but the beauty of blossoming love. Instead of moving from one level to the next both are woven together in a mix of pleasure and sorrow.

Several things make this movie acceptable and a good benchmark for others to follow. The casting is one of the most important elements. If you hire the original musical performers you lose the movie audiences who look for recognizable names. But often casting popular Hollywood actors cause the musical numbers to suffer. Finding familiar faces who have on screen chemistry, solid acting, and vocal skills is key. This one has both. Kendrick is nearly pitch perfect in her role as a struggling actress caught in the whirlwind of her husband's literary success. From seeing Jordan previously in Joyful Noise and the TV hit Smash we know he can sing and dance his butt off. Adding that to their sparkling, on screen dynamic make this a hit.

Other than a few minor characters and extras this film, like the stage production, is primarily the two leads. It has the timing, movements, and pacing of a stage production yet offers plenty of artistic depth in set design, choreography, and scenery. The musical numbers are solid and truly convey the emotions of the characters. You get what they are saying and there is not a disconnect that might come from a lack of traditional dialouge."The Schmuel Song" is a shining moment for Jordan plus other numbers like "Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence" and "Still Hurting" show that Kendrick is more that just an actress who can carry a tune.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a very romantic film with lots of drama but enough comedic moments to keep it from spiraling into depression. It is rated PG-13 for sexual material, brief strong language and a drug image. Due to the nature of the film parents may think this safer for those 16 and up. Ladies may have to make this a GNO or grab their mom, sister, aunt, or niece. It is hard enough getting most guys to engage in a romantic drama. Adding all the singing into it might push your dude over the edge. I give it 3.5 out of 5 book reports. I applaud it for taking the risk and keeping true to the musical genre. Maybe this will encourage other films to do the same. Hopefully with as much success.


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