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Review: The Last Five Years

This weekend, two films and one successful television program depicted different versions of the modern relationship between heterosexual twentysomethings, and yet the core messaging was the same amongst them all-women must give up their ambitions and remain submissive to their male counterpoints in order for the relationships to succeed. In the wildly popular 50 Shades of Grey, in the film adaption of Jason Robert Brown’s autobiographical modern cult classic musical The Last Five Years, and on HBO’s Girls, the leading ladies learned the anti-feminist lesson, and either adapted or saw their relationships come crashing down before them.

To reveal this plot detail about The Last Five Years is not a spoiler to those planning on watching the film. In fact the opening lines sung in the film are “Jamie is over and Jamie is gone. Jamie’s decided it’s time to move on…” The Jamie being sung about is novelist Jamie Wellerstein (Broadway star Jeremy Jordan) whose tumultuous five year relationship with aspiring actress Cathy Hyatt (the multi-talented Anna Kendrick) over the course of the film is depicted in raw detail.

Part of the musical’s originality stems from its fluidity with its crisscrossing timelines. As mentioned previously, the film (and its source play) opens with Cathy having just read her husband’s parting letter to her detailing the closure of their joint bank account and how he has started anew with his editor Alise. With her tear-stained face in stark close-up, Cathy is very much “Still Hurting”. The next song/scene, however, shows the couple five years prior in a lust-filed haze as Jamie admiringly calls her his “Shiksa Goddess” as he fumbles at her clothes. Each scene is a fragment of the relationship which the audience knows full well from the beginning must tragically end. As Cathy’s scenes move from the crushing finality of the relationship to its sunny beginnings, Jamie’s scenes traverse in the reverse order, the timelines only overlapping in his proposal scene “The Next Ten Minutes”. In the original stage productions of the musical (in 2002 and 2013 off-Broadway, respectively) the audience was never privy to seeing both people on stage at the same time. It is to the credit of director and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (Beautiful Creatures, P.S. I Love You) that the work was beautifully translated onto film. Acclaim must also be given to cinematographer Steven Meizler who assists the audience’s understanding of the altering timelines by bathing the early years of the relationship in bright colors and darkening the color palette of the later years. Costume design by Ciera Wells cleverly mimics the look of the film by having Cathy in primary colors in the earlier stages and then slowly devolving into darker colors (shades of grey, if you will) as the relationship takes a turn for the worse. Praise must largely be given, however, to star Anna Kendrick, who brings warmth and realism to the project. At turns comedic (notably in “A Summer in Ohio”) and then long-suffering (in “See I’m Smiling”) she ably handles the twists and turns of Cathy’s last five years. While undoubtedly a dynamic performer on stage, Jeremy Jordan is disappointingly only able to convey frustration and excitement on screen and is outshone greatly by his co-lead.

Fans of the original musical productions will be pleased that the songs are left almost completely untouched. As well, original stars Sherie Rene Scott, Betsy Wolfe, Norbert Leo Butz, and playwright Jason Robert Brown all cameo in the film.

Although its storyline only spans five years, the film is timeless and should be watched for many years to come.

[star v=4]

Leora Heilbronn

Leora Heilbronn is a Toronto based film aficionado who has a weakness for musicals and violent action flicks. She can often be spotted reading a wide range of literature or listening to show tunes.