Anna Kendrick plays Cathy, a struggling, out of work actress who falls in love with novelist Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) – who goes on to have great success with a bestseller. Though initially embarking on an intense, passionate relationship – we watch on as the pair slowly begin to drift apart, as their conflicting careers get in the way of a love that at one point seemed everlasting and imperishable.
Musicals so often work best when interweaving between dialogue and song, like The Sound of Music or West Side Story – as the featured tracks become more distinctive and indelible. However in The Last Five Years it’s a different approach taken, where it’s more operatic, as the entire piece is predominantly presented in song, as the story is told through the music, as opposed to different compositions breaking up the narrative. What transpires is a film that comes without any unique, distinguishable songs, leaving little to grasp hold of. Never mind the last five years, you can barely remember a melody going back the last five minutes.
Thankfully Kendrick is magnificent in the lead, as the talented actress continues to breath new life into this genre, following on from her performances in Into the Woods and Pitch Perfect. She has an innate ability to be so nuanced, and bring emotion and depth to the roles – which is by no means an easy feat when tasked with having to mime along to her own recordings. Unfortunately any such commendation cannot be extended to Jordan, who turns in a somewhat empty, impassive performance. Given the two actors are playing the only two noteworthy characters, you need both to be of a certain standard in order for the film to triumph. This points to a film that is severely lacking in character variety, without any indispensable roles to add any sense of conflict to proceedings. If you’re going to deviate away from having any substantial supporting roles, the protagonists need to carry the entire picture, and this struggles on that front.
It’s a shame as the premise holds much potential, crucially simplistic and intimate in its depiction of one couple slowly falling out of love. There are other themes at play – such as the feminist angle, with Cathy not just wanting to be somebody successful’s wife, but it’s not explored with enough depth. There’s also the intriguing study of couples balancing their career with their relationship, but we get lost in the monotonous music, and crave just a proper, good old-fashioned conversation. It’s also a rather palpable mistake referencing other great musicals throughout this endeavour. Feeling like something of “here’s what you could have won” situation – which is never a good thing.