September 10, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto 2014 Review: “The Last 5 Years”


THE LAST 5 YEARS (Radius/Weinstein) – release date currently unscheduled – Worth A Ticket

Richard LaGravenese’s  film version of Jason Robert Brown’s THE LAST 5 YEARS, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and was acquired for release by the Radius division of the Weinstein Company, is a must-see for anyone who loves musicals–and very possibly hell on earth for anyone who doesn’t.  Especially in recent years, movie musicals have mostly been adaptations of Broadway extravaganzas, featuring starry casts (some of whom may even be able to sing) and lavish production values.  The Last 5 Years has none of that.  It’s been expanded by LaGravenese only enough for it to be a movie, rather than a filmed stage performance, and it’s built entirely around Brown’s glorious music and lyrics and the two wildly talented young performers who deliver them, Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan.  Either those elements sell you or they don’t, and if they don’t, there’s probably a comic book movie playing elsewhere in the multiplex.

The off-Broadway production was extremely stylized:  a man (Jamie, a writer) and a woman (Cathy, an actress) each stood alone on stage and alternated solos about their marriage that had fallen apart over the course of five years, as he became a best-selling author and her career stalled.  Cathy began at the end of the relationship and worked her way back to their happy first date; Jamie began there and moved forward to the break-up.  The two only shared the stage together midway through the show (when Jamie proposed marriage) and at the end.  LaGravenese has retained the forwards/backwards structure, and the alternating solos, but the songs are now delivered in a more naturalistic way, with both characters on screen together in real locations, and even a bit of dialogue and a few background characters.  Devotees of the off-Broadway show may miss the rigor of that production, but LaGravenese’s approach is a very deft way of keeping the central material unaltered while allowing it to breathe in a different medium.  (LaGravenese hasn’t tried to address a structural problem of the work, which is that in movie terms it has no “third act”–by the time we get to the latter stages, we already know the couple will break up, so it basically retraces its steps.  A more elegant theatrical architect like Alan Ayckbourn would have detonated some twist near the end that only one of the characters had known about.)

Although the film was shot quickly, on a very low budget, it has a surprisingly rich, handsome look (cinematographer Steven Meizler is stepping up to that job, but he’s worked on several Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher films), and the vast majority of the singing was done live on the set, which allowed the songs to be truly acted.  All of that is merely wrapping, of course, around the central elements of the show’s score and performances.  Brown’s songs are some of the most lovely–and sometimes hilarious–of recent memory.  (He provides his blessing to the film with a cameo appearance, as do some of the performers from prior stage productions.)  The revelations here are the actors.  Kendrick has been singing on screen since her debut in Camp, and more recently in Pitch Perfect, but she’s been fundamentally a dramatic actress and more often than not a supporting one, and has never had the opportunity to showcase her voice and her star power the way she does here.  Jordan has been a star on Broadway, but outside of New York, he’s mostly been known as the male lead on the woeful second season of Smash.  With material several million times better here, he reveals himself to have leading man charisma as well as an amazing voice.

The Last 5 Years is for the niche audience that wants to watch two terrific performers belt out musical theatre songs for 90 minutes.  (With Radius releasing, it’s not clear how much of a theatrical release the film will even have before heading to VOD.)  For the crowd that appreciates a movie like that, it won’t disappoint.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."