For your standard musical, you would usually have a straightforward narrative, where the biggest difficulty comes in trying to come up with catchy tunes, the perfect accompanying lyrics, and a story that will grab hold of the audience as the characters sing their way through it. However, apparently for composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown, this wasn’t quite challenging enough. For his musical “The Last Five Years,” he has opted to forgo the usual path of taking us from point A to point B, deciding instead to take us from A to B and B to A simultaneously. The musical tells the story of the relationship between Cathy (Anna Kendrick) and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan). Told almost entirely through song, Cathy’s numbers start from the end of the film and move backwards, whereas Jamie’s start from the beginning of the relationship and move forward, meeting in the middle where he proposes. We know from the very start that their relationship doesn’t end well, but as we move back and forth, we slowly find the pieces falling into place that tore what seemed like a great pairing apart.
The first thought that some may have when hearing such a premise is that it all seems somewhat pointless when you already know that the couple has broken apart from the very beginning of the film, but that is exactly where this unique structure begins to pull you in. We don’t know anything about these people yet, what drove them apart, whose fault it was, or why they got together in the first place. As Cathy takes us back through the tumultuous times, we see what went wrong from her perspective (Jamie finds great success as a writer and she begins to feel like she’s living in his shadow), whereas on the flip side, we experience Jamie’s great joy at finally finding the girl he believes to be “the one.”
Halfway through, you may mistakenly think that the film is over as they agree to marry, but as we progress, we find the emotions switching. Jamie seems to regret his decision almost immediately, finding himself attracted to many other woman (a problem he had before meeting Cathy), while on Cathy’s side, they take a trip so he can meet her parents, during which she asks him to move in with her. This is precisely why the structure works so marvelously. Instead of simply going from beginning to end and having all the joy and sorrow dumped on us at once, the film gives us time to take it in from each perspective, and subsequently filling in the little gaps that we didn’t get on the other’s trip through that portion of the story.
When all is said and sung, it’s remarkable to find that Brown was able to pull this off in such an engrossing manner, and with some pretty good music along the way no less. The songs aren’t necessarily anything you’ll be humming after it’s over, but they are well-written and convey exactly what we need to know as we jump back and forth. On top of this, we find a great pair of leads in Anna Kendrick (who recently gave another fantastic performance in a musical as Cinderella in “Into the Woods”) and the relatively unknown Jeremy Jordan, whose biggest credit before this was a stint on the show “Smash.”
Both are equally up to the challenge of the demanding vocals, even showing some fine chemistry along the way. The film may not have gotten that much attention due to its limited theatrical release, but now that it’s being released on Blu-ray, it’s most definitely worth grabbing a copy of it if you’re in the mood for a musical that’s a little out of the ordinary, but in a fascinating way. Brown took a pretty big gamble when he put together the original show, but luckily it paid off big time, for its film adaptation now stands as a great example of what can happen when someone tries something different.
“The Last Five Years” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. Throughout the presentation, the image is perfectly sharp and clear, showing no signs of fuzziness. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is outstanding, as one would hope when it comes to a home release of a musical. All songs and dialogue are loud and clear, giving you an optimal experience as you follow this couple through the best and worst of times. Overall, it may be a relatively small film, but it’s been given fantastic treatment for its transition to the small screen.
A Conversation with Composer/Lyricist Jason Robert Brown: A very brief interview with Brown that doesn’t tell you much of anything at all. Easily skippable.
Richard LaGravenese’s adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s “The Last Five Years” presents an intriguing and compelling spin on the standard musical, and on storytelling in general. Giving us the opportunity to witness the degradation of a relationship from both points of view, we learn bit by bit just where things went wrong, while at the same time seeing just how happy each was at the start. Featuring well-written songs, along with emotional performances from Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, this is the kind of musical that doesn’t deserve its low-key spot under the radar, but rather a chance to be seen by a larger audience. Hopefully that’s exactly what will happen with its home release.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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