I saw “The Last Five Years” this past Tuesday. At the time, I decided that it was a decent movie, but not the best I’d ever seen. I went home and grudgingly settled in with some homework, fully expecting to put it on the back burner until it came time to write this review.
It seems I was wrong. Several days later, bits and pieces of “The Last Five Years” are still lingering in my mind.
The film, based on a musical of the same name, takes the slightly overdone trope of a failed marriage viewed from the perspective of both partners and brings it back to life in a heart-wrenching way.
Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan are Cathy and Jamie, a struggling actress and a successful novelist. The course of the film follows each of their perspectives, but with a twist: Cathy’s story opens at the end of their marriage and travels in reverse, while Jamie’s narrative moves from start to finish. While confusing at first, the opposite perspectives add depth and intricacy to an otherwise slightly overdone plot device.
One of my favorite things about this movie is how the separate views are exaggerated by the music. The songs are primarily solos from Kendrick and Jordan. The only duet the two sing in the entire movie, “The Next Ten Minutes,” is at the moment when Jamie proposes.
This duet is prefaced by a string of lightly sung comments from Jamie and ends with a string of responses from Cathy—basically, separate halves of the conversation they have right before the proposal. The result is a really chilling effect and insight into the divergence of their perspectives.
The music itself is gorgeous, focusing on piano and string accompaniment and complementing the performers’ voices perfectly. Other notable pieces include “The Schmuel Song,” an uplifting story about a tailor and a magical clock, told by Jamie in an effort to cheer Cathy up at Christmastime and encourage her efforts in acting.
It’s accompanied by Jeremy Jordan’s goofy antics and the cozy glow of string lights, and is a refreshing break from the primarily heavy subject matter.
I also greatly enjoyed the absolutely stunning “Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You,” the tear-jerking final song and Jamie and Cathy’s last near-duet.
I think the reason that “The Last Five Years” left such an unexpected impression on me is that it deals with a number of themes that are deeper than you’d expect.
While it’s a love story, it also deals with issues like success and failure, discrepancies in perspective, nostalgia, the rush of new love and the emptiness of love lost. It’s more intricate than it seems at first glance and hard-hitting emotionally, but also bittersweet and beautiful.
And of course, as it is with most musicals, the music conveys something to the heart and gut that spoken word can’t always touch.
Honestly, my only major criticism of this film is that the subject matter is perhaps a little tired. What makes “The Last Five Years” truly notable is the life given to the story by other aspects of the performance—the stunning music, the talented actors and the authenticity of their interactions makes the viewer think and rethink and smile and cry (I may have shed a tear or two in the theatre).
I would definitely recommend “The Last Five Years” to everyone—even if you don’t like musicals, suck it up for a couple hours and give this movie a try. With gorgeous music, talented performers and a compelling story, it’s worth the watch.