Title: The Last Five Years
Director: Richard Lagravenese
Major Players: Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan
Out Of Five: 3.5
If you’ve an aversion to spoilers, you might struggle with the next few paragraphs. And, between you and me, I’m not having an easy time trying to write them. Because The Last Five Years is one of those films that tells you the outcome right at the very start.
It’s based on the hit stage musical from about 15 years ago, all about the relationship between a young writer and an aspiring actress. He gets lucky, his first book is taken up by a major publisher, but her career doesn’t go so well: audition after audition produces little except a summer season every year in Ohio. As his career continues to soar and takes up more of his time, hers flounders and the pressure starts to show.
So, yes, it’s a love story and a musical as well, but to give it a bit more interest, there’s a device that’s almost too clever for its own good. Cathy’s (Anna Kendrick) songs start at the end of the relationship – sorry, yes, I know that’s a spoiler – and they work backwards to the start. Jamie’s (Jeremy Jordan) begin at the start of their relationship and finish at the end. They do overlap in the middle – the middle being when he proposes. It makes more sense as you watch the film, but that doesn’t stop it from being just a wee bit too contrived.
It’s also very much a two hander. Yes, there are other characters, but they are sketchily drawn and we never get to know them or anything about them apart from the barest of details. There’s just one scene that shows Jamie socialising with friends – Cathy never seems to have any – and, while it’s another contrivance to concentrate our attention on the couple, it does seem strange that they only ever socialise with each other. Perhaps that’s part of their problem.
But in the hands of Jordan and Kendrick – Kendrick especially – they’re an appealing couple, particularly when they’re full of the enthusiasm that goes with those sparkly- eyed early days of a relationship. Kendrick seems to be carving out a niche for herself as a musical performer: it’s not that long since we saw in Into The Woods.
Now that, of course, was Sondheim. This isn’t. The songs try to be but, in all honesty, they don’t get close and, after a while, they all start to sound the same. What you have is a series of songs, loosely joined together to make a movie and it makes you long for more than the odd smattering of dialogue.
Does the move from the stage to the big screen work? Well, it gives it the story a broader landscape – New York and poor old Ohio – but, in all honesty, it could be any city, despite the shots of yellow cabs and the Empire State. There’s no real feel of the NYC at all. What we have here is an private story, a relationship being de-constructed before our very eyes, so it needs an intimate setting. A small theatre is ideal for that, giving you close proximity to the actors and the ability to hear their voices live. But as a film, there’s a distance created by the screen, even if you’re in a small cinema or watching the DVD. That vital connection just isn’t there.
Maybe I’m looking at it like a traditional musical: in fact it’s more suited to the Glee generation. It’s certainly romantic and sad at the end, even if you know what’s going to happen. Do you need a tissue? Not necessarily. I managed quite happily without one.
The Last Five Years is released on Friday, 17 April.