Director: Richard LaGravenese
Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
Number of discs: 1
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: ANCHOR BAY
Release Date: May 5, 2015
Run Time: 94 minutes
Theater actors, especially those of the musical variety, are taught to play to the back of the room. When these performances are captured on film, the result often has me feeling as though I were given front-row seats to one of these performances. Watching Richard LaGravenese’s film version of The Last Five Years, I was able to imagine the appeal of its theatrical show, while desperately wishing I could move to the back of a non-existent theater. Some things are unattractive so close, and however effective these two stars may have been onstage, I couldn’t help but be distracted by all of the nose flairs and big mannerisms that came with close-up shots of actors as they belt out lyrics.
This isn’t entirely the fault of stars Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, because a lot of the unsettling effect came from LaGravenese’s directorial choices. It is contradictory to film a musical with a sense of realism. Whether the choice for the hand-held close-ups was for budgetary concerns or stylistic, it feels in direct conflict with the suspension of disbelief needed for musical theater. There is something jarring about watching an actor aggressively singing lyrics while riding in a crammed elevator full of people. This occurs twice within the film, with the high definition presentation even capturing the spit as it comes from
mouth during one passionate elevator interlude. I mostly just felt pity for the
poor extras forced into the crammed space during those sequences. Even in
scenes without singing (which there are very few), the level of talking is
louder than would ever be socially acceptable. During one scene in a waiting
room, Kendrick’s character talks loudly on the phone as though she were in
private. Rather than being at all concerned with what the scene was about, I
was instead reminded of many instances where rude individuals with their
self-centered cell phone use have made waiting rooms an annoyance. Jordan
But it is not just social courtesy which makes this film far from relatable. The characters are both rather petty and self-involved, artists who justify their own selfish actions while pretending that they are capable of loving anyone more than they love themselves. Even that could have been endurable with a collection of solid musical numbers, as they take up more running time than any dialogue, but every song quickly blends together in an easily forgettable and often irritating collection of songs. With unlikable characters, blandly annoying music, and frustratingly unfitting direction, only the plot remains to retain audience interest. If only there was one.
The Last Five Years is essentially just a break-up film like many before it, made unique only by the unconventional narrative structure and the fact that the two characters in the relationship together are artists of sorts. Jamie Wellerstein (
) is a young writer whose
career suddenly catapults him to fame in the type of unrealistic fantasy world
of film where authors are celebrities without writing pandering young adult
novels. This fame quickly becomes a problem for his new bride, struggling
actress Cathy Hiatt (Kendrick). Despite the fact that Cathy is given an
unrealistic amount of attention from the press simply for being Jamie’s
romantic partner, she is unable to remain supportive of her husband in the face
of her own career failings. Jordan
Jamie is also far from innocent in the inevitable disintegration of their marriage, turning to adultery as an answer to Cathy’s bitterness over his success. I wish that I could go into greater detail about the depth of their relationship or the problems that tear them apart, but the film mostly just shows repeated sequences of these same two problems. The only thing holding it together for an adequate running time is the non-consecutive narrative structure. We are given both sides of the story, with Jamie’s perspective told from the beginning onward while Cathy’s story begins at the end and moves backwards. This might have been effective if there were two sides of the story to be told, as the film’s tagline suggests, but the opposing viewpoints add no new perspectives to the predictably derivative narrative.
The Blu-ray release doesn’t offer much in terms of the high definition presentation (aside from the aforementioned visible spittle), though the special features are directed at fans of the material. Despite my lack of connection with the musical contributions, these remain the focus of the extras with a set of sing-along subtitles and a brief conversation with composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown.
Entertainment Value: 4.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 4/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 3.5/10