A half-decade romance between two young New Yorkers is recounted through song in “The Last 5 Years,” a middling musical starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan (“Smash”).
Based on the Off-Broadway show by Jason Robert Brown, writer-director Richard LaGravenese’s adaptation features some spirited numbers from the likable duet and a few good laughs from the irreverent lyrics but on the whole fails to capitalize cinematically. Unimaginatively staged and emotionally flat, the film simply can’t overcome its artificial vibe, even for the low authenticity standard set by most stage adaptations. Despite the recent box office success of “Annie” and “Into The Woods,” it would be surprising to see this lackluster genre piece break away from its core demographic.
Unfolding almost exclusively through music, the film follows the five-year relationship between budding novelist Jamie Wallerstein (Jeremy Jordan) and struggling actress Cathy Hiatt (Anna Kendrick). A simple enough setup, but there’s a twist: Jamie’s story is told in chronological order while Cathy’s plays out in reverse, beginning at the end of the marriage. It’s an interesting though not entirely effective narrative device that enables their storylines to intersect at the couple’s emotional highpoint, their wedding.
The early stages of their romance is typical of most young lovers – fun, passionate, exhilarating – and enjoyably depicted in songs revolving around a picture-perfect first date, meeting the parents and moving in together. However, although they’re operating on the same romantic wavelength, their professional lives couldn’t be further apart. While Jamie’s first novel, released by Random House, is making a splash in the literary world, Cathy has to resort to bottom-of-the-barrel acting jobs like summer stock in rural Ohio. On top of the inherent difficulties of a long-distance relationship, more complications arise when Jamie falls into some of the trappings of his newfound fame.
Although many of the songs are catchy and expertly performed (highlights include “Moving Too Fast” and “The Next Ten Minutes”), the storyline is, to put it mildly, rather flimsy. Granted, it’s hard to criticize a film that is constructed almost entirely from songs for being inauthentic, but in order for the lyrics to resonate, they need to be rooted in some kind of tangible reality, and “The Last 5 Years” doesn’t really have one to offer. Moreover, whereas most musicals make up for their narrative deficiencies with gorgeous lensing and jaw-dropping choreography, here those cinematic qualities are largely absent, with the exception of Sabine Hoffman’s fluid editing.
These shortcomings notwithstanding, one would be hard-pressed to find fault in the performance of Anna Kendrick, who has emerged over the past couple years as one of the standout actresses of her generation. From dramas and horror flicks to comedies and musicals, Kendrick has demonstrated her versatility in a variety of diverse roles spanning the genre spectrum. And while the role of Cathy isn’t exactly uncharted territory for the actress, it’s certainly a showcase for her incredible pipes. As for Jeremy Jordan, his efforts are commendable but noticeably more strained than those of his screen partner. Aside from some minor film and television work (“Joyful Noise,” “Smash”), Jordan comes from a theater background, having performed lead roles in the recent musicals “Newsies” and “Bonnie and Clyde,” and his lack of onscreen experience is evident throughout.
Overall, some musicals have premises that lend themselves to the big screen; “The Last 5 Years” is not one of them.
By Lucas Mirabella
Rated PG-13 for sexual material, brief strong language and a drug image.
Running Time: 96 minutes