Oh quit your whining.
Watching “The Last Five Years” is like sitting at a table at one of those restaurants where they think it’s a good idea to place you within 18 inches of another couple — and this particular couple next to you are attractive 20-somethings who think they invented love at first sight, career ups and downs, fighting, cheating, reconciling and breaking up.
“The Last Five Years” is based on a stage musical written by Jason Robert Brown, which premiered at Skokie’s Northlight Theatre in 2001, moved to Off-Broadway and won Drama Desk awards, and has been staged numerous times in subsequent years.
In the stage version, a young woman tells her side of a five-year relationship beginning at the end, while the young man tells his side in chronological order. They meet only in the middle, at their wedding.
In Richard LaGravenese’s adaptation, we start with Cathy (Anna Kendrick) lamenting the end of the marriage — but then we flash back to the early, giddy days of her relationship with Jamie (Jeremy Jordan), and the two share the screen for most of the rest of the film as it hopscotches back and forth in time in unnecessarily confusing fashion.
There’s very little dialogue. Cathy and Jamie will recite a line or two, and then one or the other or both will burst into song. And while both have Broadway-level pipes, neither has a particularly distinctive, knock-it-out-of-the park voice. It doesn’t help that the songs, while solid, become repetitive in melody. And there’s not a home run in the bunch. I walked out humming … nothing from this movie.
The biggest problem with “The Last Five Years” is it’s pretty much an argument against couples getting married too young. Hardly compelling stuff. When Cathy and Jamie first find each other, he sings about the joys of finding a shiksa goddess after dodging a dozen Jewish girls. What a turn-on for Cathy to hear Jamie singing about how this is going to kill his mother, even as Jamie is tumbling into the bed with Cathy.
Jamie’s a would-be writer; Cathy’s a struggling actress. The wheels start to come off the relationship when Jamie’s first novel turns him into a superstar, while Cathy gets the heave-ho at one New York audition after another and finds herself doing summer stock in Ohio year after year.
In the fantasy world of “The Last Five Years,” being a successful young novelist means your publisher throws a huge party for you pretty much every weekend. Cathy whines about Jamie getting so much attention. Jamie tries to keep Cathy’s spirits up for a while but then explodes at her for throwing herself a pity party. It doesn’t help Cathy’s case when she and Jamie take a drive to visit her parents in the suburbs, and she sings about how she’s better than her high school friend who got knocked up and her former classmates who never made it to New York. (In this particular number, Cathy seems to have forgotten she made it TO New York, but she hasn’t made it IN New York.)
Jordan has a puppy-dog earnestness and a dancer’s athleticism, but he’s a playing a self-centered, self-serious egomaniac who can’t stay faithful for more than a couple of songs. We know Kendrick can sing, but her voice sounds a little thin in some numbers, and the Cathy character doesn’t have much depth beyond falling in lust with Jamie, complaining about the audition process, resenting Jamie’s success and singing about her superiority to her childhood friends and her fellow Ohio actors.
“The Last Five Years” moves along pretty quickly, and we get some beautiful shots of New York, and one terrific musical number on the streets in which the pedestrians become a part of the show.
Ultimately, though, I found myself growing tired of Jamie and Cathy, and understanding why they didn’t want to be with each other.