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MOVIE REVIEW: The Last 5 Years

This article was originally written for and published  by The Public Reviews at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/film-review-the-last-five-years/

There’s no doubt that it is with a mixture of trepidation and as well as anticipation that fans of Jason Robert Brown’s little seen but much-loved, cult, off-Broadway hit, The Last Five Years, will greet the release of Richard LaGravenese’s movie adaptation: what works on stage can often be a damn sight trickier to pull off on screen.

The emotional two-hander charts the disintegration of the relationship of Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) and Cathy (Anna Kendrick), two New Yorkers with big ambitions: his to be a successful novelist, hers, a Broadway star. Its unique take on the typical relationship tale being that the duo’s stories are told in reverse: Jamie’s from optimistic start to end, Cathy’s from agonising end to start, the pair only meeting onstage briefly in the middle, at their wedding.

As Kendrick’s first notes ring out on the show’s most famous, and arguably best song, the heartbreaking “I’m Still Hurting”, you know that, in vocal terms at least, Brown’s cherished work is in safe hands. What is less certain is if newcomers to the musical will pick up on the converging timelines, unlike the stage musical, the pair share the screen in almost every scene, indeed, the penny may only fully drop for many at the very end when Jamie writes the letter we see Cathy reading in the first moments of the movie.

What this screen adaptation does do that the stage can’t, is give full life to the relationship build up and break down, fleshing out the back story, providing atmosphere and life, and it manages, save for a minuscule on-street dance sequence, to keep it very real and resonant. It is a welcome addition to the movie musical theatre library, providing as it does a more relatable work for the contemporary audience.

There’s no trickery in LaGravenese’s direction, it is simplistic, more hand-held camera, docu-drama than glossy Hollywood musical, and though this may be due to necessity because of its small budget, a glitzier approach just would not have worked with this material. The reality is also enhanced greatly as the whole thing is filmed entirely on location.

Both Kendrick and Jordan are deserving of praise, you would be hard pressed to find a pair more suited to the roles, and the Tony Award-nominated duo will certainly win favour with musical theatre purists. The witty, melodic songs are given full justice by both leads, but it is Kendrick’s portrayal of Cathy that garners the greatest sympathy: as Jamie is wined and dined, fawned and feted over, she struggles from one unsuccessful audition to the next, his ebullience and soaring ambition in contrast to her frustration, as she increasingly becomes a bystander in their relationship: there’s an inevitability that Cathy was always going to be the one left behind. It is to Brown’s great credit that he manages to successfully convey the female perspective so strongly and resist the urge to excuse Jamie’s descent into adultery.

This painful depiction of a relationship will strike a chord with many and the film remains an affecting piece of work but it never fully captures the onstage emotion and the visceral experience of being in the same room, watching these two people sing their hearts out. Some of the clarity of the stage production is lost in the shared screen time, but existing fans will find much to admire and it might just get some non-fans to look at movie musicals in a new light.

What this movie adaptation does do though, is cement Jason Robert Brown’s place as the rightful successor to his hero Stephen Sondheim.

The Last Five Years was released in the US on 13 February 2015  and will be released in the UK in June

REVIEW: The Last Five Years – Govanhill Baths, Glasgow

You would be hard pressed to find a more sure-footed staging of Jason Robert Brown‘s eloquent, emotive and rarely staged musical, The Last Five Years than that from Mad Props Theatre presented in the atmospheric surroundings of the former ‘Steamie’ of Glasgow’s Edwardian Govanhill Baths.

last 5 mad props

The story of the five year relationship of Jamie, a writer whose star is on the rise and Cathy, a struggling actress, it is distinguished from its musical theatre peers by its structure; presented as opposing timelines, Jamie’s story moves chronologically from the couple’s first meeting and charts his rise a novelist and the disintegration of the relationship, whilst Cathy’s moves backwards from the end. The pair only meet briefly in the middle of the musical when their timelines intersect at their wedding.

last five years 2

This fluent production has a resonance and poignancy that speaks powerfully to anyone who has ever experienced the breakdown of a relationship and it is deftly handled by director Marc MacKinnon who keeps interest levels high and the action moving on apace (indeed the production feels as if it has gone by in the blink of an eye). The staging in the derelict former wash-house adds greatly to the viewing experience with its exposed brick, air-conditioning ducts and multi-tiered scaffolding and represents perfectly the shabby New York apartment of the young couple: we are there, in the moment with Cathy and Jamie, feeling every moment of joy and pain on their emotional journey.

the last five years

Brown’s music is a veritable smorgasbord of musical styles from rock and pop via Klezmer, jazz and folk: you really have to tip your hat to a man who can include strippers and snakes, Doritos and Limbovitch in his lyrics with ease and the fifteen songs are a perfect balance of humour and heartache.

The incredibly talented pair carrying the weight of the show on their shoulders (Imogen Parry and Sam Willison) are entirely believable as Cathy and Jamie, and each is in possession of a fine voice, Parry is particularly effective in conveying Cathy’s endless frustrations at her career and the profoundly upsetting unravelling of her relationship. Credit too, must go to musical director Paul Slevin for managing to make a single piano sound like a whole band.

last 5

The Last Five Years is a creative re-telling of a much explored theme and Mad Props Theatre more than live up to their reputation as the classiest amateur theatre group in Glasgow with this production. Do yourself a favour and catch it if you can.

View the production in rehearsal at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMU0ExXnAiw