Jason Robert Brown’s beautiful, incisive, often painful off Broadway musical deserves its rabid cult following. A two-hander about a young Manhattan couple moving apart – Cathy’s a smart, insecure struggling actress, Jamie’s a skirt-chasing novelist enjoying a meteoric rise – it’s filled with funny, conversational, touching songs even haters of musicals might enjoy.
On stage, the show begins with Cathie left alone and in emotional ruins in their brownstone after Jamie dumps her. In she-said, he-said (or, rather she-sang, he-sang) fashion, Cathie’s story is told moving backwards to the very beginning while Jamie’s begins with their first meeting, their explosive attraction and moves forward from there.
The simple, spare, micro budget 90-minute movie version, directed by Richard La Gravanese, throws out the conceit that worked well on stage and, instead, lets the actors detail the growing hurdles and imbalances in their lopsided relationship. The Last Five Years is a small, bootstrap kind of movie, obviously a labor of love, and it works well because of the passion, charisma and Broadway belts of the two leads, Jeremy Jordan (the real show-stopper here, who made a splash onstage in Newsies) and Broadway baby Anna Kendrick (a Tony Award winner for High Society).
The movie is largely sung-through and sounds terrific — especially in Kendrick’s heartbreak stuff like “Still Hurting” or her Busby Berkeley-esque Broadway spoof “A Summer in Ohio” or Jordan’s “Shiksa Goddess” — but as good as the songs and actors are, on the big screen, the material feels a bit thin and under-dramatized. We need to know more about what went wrong between these two and it’s just there. The musical numbers also cry out loud for smarter, cannier, more inventive staging because, after a while, there’s much of a muchness to them.
Still, for fans of the show, it’s a big steaming plate of wonderful, especially with pop-up appearances by Sherie Rene Scott, who originated the role of Cathie, and Jason Robert Brown as a rehearsal hall pianist. ***