In music and in life, synching up is half the battle. For the two lovers orbiting and intersecting with each other through Richard LaGravenese’s adaptation of the Jason Robert Brown musical The Last Five Years (A), the language of tough love is song, and the deck is shuffled with her story told backward and his forward. The “he” is Jeremy Jordan, and the “she” is Anna Kendrick, and both are in spectacular voice and game for the virtually all-sung emoting. Kendrick’s struggling actress character draws from the actress’ considerable charms and everywoman humor. Jordan is also stunning in his debonair dismissiveness as an on-the-rise novelist whose fame is ablaze just as Kendrick’s character crashes and burns. With hand-held aesthetic and its cunning chronology, it’s a bit like Once meets Memento, with shades of young love out of the Before Sunrise playbook and a found footage quality à la Blair Witch. There’s something else afoot here: a giddiness teetering to melancholy and an overarching uncertainty about where it’s all headed. It does seem clear from the opening sequence that the titular timeline doesn’t end well for the couple, but in still life and snapshots within the various montages, there’s enduring hope. A breezy indie spirit imbues the affair with a veritable home movie quality, with the audience a voyeur to a relationship always on the brink. LaGravenese is scrappy and uncommon in his approach, which rewrites many of the rules of the genre. Naturalistic and unexpectedly moving, it’s a marvel of a musical.
The film’s co-star talks to TheaterMania about the film adaptation of the cult stage musical: