TIFF 2014: The Last 5 Years – Film Review

Director: Richard LaGravenese
Actors: Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan
Writer: Richard LaGravenese (Screenplay), Jason Robert Brown (Musical)
Country: USA
Runtime: 94 min
Rating: PG

With the over abundance of musical love stories that exists, many new works find it a challenge to stand out. The Last 5 Years (2014), based on the hit Broadway musical of the same name, presents an entirely new structure and way of telling a story. However, this unique work would have been even stronger if the plot of the sung through musical, and, indeed, the music itself, had reflected the form and been a bit more original.

The Last 5 Years

Cathy (Anna Kendrick) and Jaime (Jeremy Jordan) are attractive young people who meet, fall in love, get married, and fall out of love. The plot may not be exciting, but what makes this story interesting is the way in which it is relayed. The tale is told entirely through song, and each song presented is sung by an alternating actor, so that while Jaime tells his story in chronological order, Cathy is moving backwards. While Jaime’s songs become increasingly dark as the story progresses and the relationship turns sour, Cathy begins unhappily but is reveling in new love by the end. In this manner, an audience is able to see both sides of this relationship and its downfall, but must watch it progress and regress in different order for the two individuals involved.

The structure of this film works well to turn an exceptionally simple story into a mystery that the audience must puzzle out. While we may know how it ends for Cathy, our interest is maintained as we desire to see Jaime’s point of view, and the same goes for the beginning of the relationship as well. Although simplicity is necessary for the desired effect, one of my quarrels with the film is that I found it to be too simple. The story is typical and many of the songs forgettable, as the film relies entirely on its form to generate interest.

The Last 5 Years
Photo from the Production Set

A scene that stood out as impressive occurred when Cathy sings a very funny song in an audition. This scene showed the potential of the songwriters to be witty and actress Kendrick herself to be warm and comedic, and the work as a whole would have benefited from more moments such as this one. The actors do their best as Cathy and Jaime, and it is no fault of theirs that they are not given particularly inspiring material with which to work.

I imagine that The Last 5 Years would be a very interesting work to view presented up on the stage, and it was amusing trying to determine how certain scenes would have been set up. The unique form is a brilliant idea, and the songs have the potential to be witty and sharp, so it is unfortunate that most are mundane and that not much happens overall. The idea that the relationship between Cathy and Jaime is everyday as opposed to epic may make it relatable, but it doesn’t make it overly interesting. This musical is pleasant, but it could have been great if it had incorporated a few more unique elements.