Have you ever been so inspired by a film that you want more time with it, even as you’re walking out of the theatre? The day after I attended the 2014 Austin Film Festival screening of The Last Five Years, I listened to the off-Broadway soundtrack on almost constant repeat. I eagerly awaited the release of the film’s soundtrack, or any opportunity I might have to catch the musical onscreen again. Unfortunately the movie didn’t turn up on any other Austin screens, but I bought it as soon as it was available on demand. I made a playlist on Amazon of the songs in opposite order… let’s just say I was quite obsessed with this movie musical that did not get a lot of attention, critical or otherwise.
The under-the-radar picture is an adaptation of the stage musical by Jason Robert Brown — a work influential enough to inspire scribe Lin Manuel Miranda to reference it in his current Broadway smash, Hamilton. The Last Five Years depicts the span of a relationship in contrasting viewpoints of Cathy (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air) and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan, now appearing in Supergirl). Through song, we follow the highs and lows of this couple’s time together — starting at the miserable end for Cathy (“Still Hurting”) and the joyous, promising first night together for Jamie (“Shiksa Goddess”).
This unusual chronology creates a puzzle for the viewer, as you try to piece together which year in the relationship a song illustrates. The only duet for the two is the engagement song in the middle, “The Next Ten Minutes,” where the timelines coalesce for a short period. Otherwise, Jamie faces a successful literary career with little hesitation as Cathy deals with almost constant rejection in her attempt to make it on stage.
Writer/director Richard LaGravenese worked for seven years to make this screen adaptation a reality, and his affection for and dedication to the project is visible, even in small touches. The editing adds to humorous moments (“A Summer in Ohio”) and gives extra layers to songs of frustration (“Climbing Uphill,” “Nobody Needs to Know”).
Jordan and Kendrick deliver emotional performances, the discordant scenes between Cathy and Jamie as potent as the comic ones. As there is little dialogue, the music has to be enough to carry the film (and it does). The Last Five Years is a poignant and memorable film that deserves more attention.
The Last Five Years is now streaming on Netflix Instant.