Anna Kendrick plays Cinderella in this month’s Disney Broadway musical adaptation, Into the Woods, and returns as a cappella singer Beca in next year’s sequel, Pitch Perfect 2. However, in between those two film releases, Kendrick will again put her singing talent to good use with The Last Five Years, a big screen take on Jason Robert Brown’s acclaimed stage musical of the same name, as scripted and directed for the screen by Oscar-nominee Richard LaGravenese (Living Out Loud, P.S. I Love You).
Last Five Years deconstructs the five-year relationship between aspiring actress Cathy Hiatt (Kendrick) and aspiring novelist Jamie Wellerstein (Jeremy Jordan, Smash). The story is explored through Cathy’s perspective from the end to the beginning of her time with Jamie, while Jamie’s songs chart his time with Cathy in chronological order.
Recent big screen musicals released by Hollywood – including 2012’s Les Misérables and this month’s Annie as well as Into the Woods – have been based on stage shows that, by and large, readily lend themselves to a cinematic interpretation; that’s not so much the case with Last Five Years. Brown’s original stage musical – so heavily inspired by his relationship with his ex-wife, Theresa O’Neill, that she threatened legal action if certain artistic liberties weren’t added – only calls for its two leads to interact directly once. Their individual songs tend to be all the more heavily introspective in nature as a result (even by musical standards).
It’s not so surprising, then, that the initial consensus (following the movie’s showing at TIFF 2014) is split, regarding whether or not Last Five Years makes a successful transition to film, under LaGravenese’s watch. THR, for example, argues that Brown’s musical “[doesn’t] benefit from the larger breathing space of screen treatment,” while Variety cites the chemistry between Jordan and Kendrick as being key to the success of what its review refers to as a “heart-breaking musical two-hander.”
The debate about Last Five Years‘s quality (as a moviegoing experience) will no doubt continue, once more fans of the original stage show get to see how the musical’s been envisioned in movie form. Even Les Miz proved to be rather divisive among the general musical theater-loving population, on its way to becoming a box office success and, ultimately, winner of three Academy Awards.
Kendrick’s overall strong-looking performance – both in terms of her dramatic acting and singing – seems reason enough to give Last Five Years the time of day, assuming that you’re a fan of the musical genre. Technically, the film will be anti-Valentine’s Day programming when it opens in theaters; not doubt, though, there will be folks who would rather watch a sad Anna Kendrick musical than, say, the Fifty Shades of Grey movie (arriving that same weekend).
The Last Five Years opens in U.S. theaters on February 13th, 2015.