It is a classic irony that so many people seem to shun and disregard the theatricality of broadway, when many of the best films of the past have derived from theatre. Award winning classics like West Side Story, Singin’ in the Rain, Chicago, Rent, Moulin Rouge and more recently Les Miserables and La La Land have found their roots on the stage. The Last Five Years is a stage production turned film, released in 2014 starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. Kendrick, a celebrated comedy actress was lauded for her theatrical performance in Into The Woods, but The Last Five Years seems to remain hidden despite its hard hitting performances by both Kendrick and her talented counterpart. Jeremy Jordan, a broadway native and previous cast member on NBC’s Smash, delivers yet another outstanding performance, and we can’t expect anything less from him. The nature of their performances reflects the integrity of Jason Robert Brown’s writing, delivering well developed and fiercely strong characters capable of holding their own plot, while softening with warmth or pain during tandem scenes. The pair is able to conjure deeply painful emotion in numbers like “Still Hurting,” “If I Didn’t Believe in You,” and “Nobody Needs to Know,” while bantering and giggling with love during “Shiksa Goddess,” and “I Can Do Better Than That.”
This musical is heartbreaking, powerful, and highly regarded in the theatre circle. Even broadway’s newest hero, Lin Manuel-Miranda paid a small tribute to the playwright Jason Robert Brown’s work in Hamilton. That said, transferring this piece onto the screen was truly a dragon to slay, and yet the execution is flawless and smooth. In the stage production of The Last Five Years, the characters Cathy and Jamie present their experiences in the demise of this relationship over a 5 year span. However, their characters only share the stage during one song, and while Jamie’s half of the narrative is shown chronologically, Cathy’s perspective plays out in reverse, the two never aligning. This format is not ideal for the screen, we need to see our characters together. With the direction of Richard LaGravenese, films progression maintains the constantly shifting timelines and contrasting perspectives of the two partners, until the final scene in which one remembers their final moment, while the other remembers their first day together. The plot is an emotional rollercoaster in the most honest sense of the word, and yet it flows effortlessly. A dark, tear jerking song fades into a shining, bouncing sunbeam of a memory, and in minutes we are brought back down. This juxtaposition is a heartbreaking portrayal of the progression of a young relationship in an imperfect world.
While The Last Five Years, and other films in the musical genre may not be the loudest pictures or the biggest box office hits, they represent an important piece of culture that blends cinema, art, and music. The musical films of today tap into the artistic and creative roots of production that were planted with Top Hat, and other iconic films of the past.