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Family Movie Review: The Last Five Years (PG-13)

TheLastFiveYears ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalhalf-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 95 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. The film is an adaptation of a musical about a couple whose marriage falls apart, and the husband and the wife each provide their interpretation of the relationship through songs. So, lots of singing! Also some kissing, implied sexual situations, drinking, infidelity, marital fighting, language and jokes about sex, and cursing.

‘The Last Five Years’ is a fairly faithful adaptation of the musical, with a dueling-narratives approach to the unraveling of a marriage. Anna Kendrick is the inimitable centerpiece of the whole thing—she is a marvel.

By Roxana Hadadi

Anna Kendrick has sung a lot for us in the movie theaters lately. She broke big in “Pitch Perfect,” the unlikely a cappella hit that will get the sequel treatment in May with “Pitch Perfect 2,” and was a steady Cinderella in December’s “Into the Woods.” She has more to do in “The Last Five Years” than in either of those two films, but she is more than up to the task—she transcends it. She is a marvel in “The Last Five Years.” You cannot watch this film and walk away either not loving her or not respecting her immense talent. It is unbelievable.

The film, from director and writer Richard LaGravenese (who wrote last year’s “Unbroken” from Angelina Jolie and wrote and directed 2013’s supernatural teen romance “Beautiful Creatures”), is an adaptation of the play by Jason Robert Brown, who drew from his own failed relationship for the content. As a movie, “The Last Five Years” has wider scope—more space onscreen to play around, the ability for the camera to get in and around and between the two main characters’ faces, bringing every emotion straight to us—and can bring the audience deeper into the complementary-then-competing narratives being told.

Engagement in the story is practically immediate, and technically, “The Last Five Years” is impressive both behind the camera and in front of it. The story is simultaneously of how wunderkind writer Jamie (Jeremy Jordan, of “Joyful Noise”) and struggling actress Cathy (Kendrick, of “Into the Woods”) fell in love and then out of it over the course of five years, with Cathy’s story starting from the end of the five years and moving backward and Jamie’s story being told from the beginning of the relationship and moving forward. They mostly sing at each other but not together, except for one climactic scene, and the songs are treated like dialogue, with neither really acknowledging that anything is out of the ordinary even as they belt through their lyrics. (This isn’t like the television show “Glee,” though, where every musical performance has outrageous production value and transcends the limits of belief; the songs all feel organic and natural, which is in line with the original stage aesthetic.)

So we begin with 28-year-old Cathy learning that the marriage is over and that Jamie has left her, painfully and angrily singing, “Jamie is over and Jamie is gone/Jamie’s decided it’s time to move on/Jamie has new dreams he’s building upon/And I’m still hurting.” That scene is immediately followed by Jamie and Cathy’s first night together, when 23-year-old Jamie declares her a “shiksa goddess” (“I’m breaking my mother’s heart,” he laughs in between their frenzied kisses) and claims “I’ve been waiting for someone like you … If you like to drink blood, I think it’s cute!”

But then on Cathy’s end, it’s a year earlier, when Jamie visits her in Ohio but won’t even stay the night to see her perform with her theater company (“How can you stand there/Straight and tall/And see me crying/And not do anything at all?” she sings with vitriol); next for Jamie is when he learns that although he’s dropped out of Columbia University, his manuscript was just picked up by an agent and he’s about to get a book deal (“I’ve got a singular impression/Things are moving too fast,” he sings with cocky, youthful glee).

And so it goes, trading off between Cathy and Jamie as we see various aspects of their relationship, personal victories, and marital struggles. The dueling perspectives are a well-done way to explore who the characters think they are, how they see each other, and what they expect from their marriage, because the songs basically serve as extended, emotive monologues that bare everything, from the hopeful thoughts to the hateful ones. If there is a shortcoming to this, though, it could possibly be in how focused the film is on Jamie and Cathy; there are no friends, coworkers, or relatives here, which would make sense for the original theater show but makes the film feel sparse. And as much as LaGravenese adds a lot of playfulness and visual interest by playing with locations and methods of communication (Jamie’s performance about marital infidelity jumps from literary parties to bars to gentleman’s clubs, whereas Cathy’s first song performed at her Ohio theater company is sent to Jamie through videochatting), that narrowness is still felt.

What “The Last Five Years” really proves, though, is that Kendrick is undeniable. She can transmit practically any emotion through song (in contrast to Jordan, who isn’t bad by any means, but who mostly seems to be a in a rock-musical level), she can be chipper and charming and vulnerable and broken all at once, she makes strong choices about how to use her physicality. “Why did I pick this song?” she wonders at one point, but the film is never as doubtful as Cathy in that moment. “The Last Five Years” has confidence in itself, and given this movie’s myriad strengths, that commitment is well-deserved.

Enjoy reading this review? Check out our roundup of what other films are opening this week.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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