It wouldn’t be a bad thing if “Pitch Perfect” Anna Kendrick spent the rest of her film career doing nothing but musicals. Her pleasant, Broadway-polished alto was right at home with Sondheim in “Into the Woods,” had a pop star sheen for “Pitch Perfect” and is given its best showcase yet in “The Last Five Years,” a romantic musical about the ups and downs of two young lovers struggling to stay together as they pursue artistic careers in Manhattan.
No, it’s not deep. But the film, a sung-through (virtually no dialogue) musical by Jason Robert Brown, is sweet and sunny and occasionally funny. And it’s sad and pitiful in equal measure, with both Kendrick and co-star Jeremy Jordan (TV’s “Smash”) bringing passion and pain to Brown’s tunes in the New York settings where Richard Lagravenese parks his camera.
We meet Kathy, sitting on the floor of an under-lit apartment, a woman emptied out by grief.
“Jamie is over and where can I turn?” she sings. “Covered in scars I did nothing to earn.”
A five year relationship seems at an end. Over the course of 94 minutes, their story skips back and forth through time, from passionate make-out moments, to career interludes, from painful cheating to giddy pre-marital bliss.
Jamie is an aspiring writer who gets his novel published and becomes a best-selling author and literary star. And, in a publishing district song and dance number, he brags that he “got all this and more, before 24!”
Kathy swoons when the Jewish boy tearing her clothes off croons “I’m breaking my mother’s heart” for his “shiksa goddess.”
The signs of trouble come from her realization that “True, I tend to follow in his stride instead of walking side by side.” And he has this wan little ode to temptation after they’re married, “It’s Fine.” Kathy auditions and auditions and auditions, singing about the cattle calls of a young actress’s life.
“I suck, I suck I suuuuuuuuuuck,” never sounded so self-doubtingly sweet.
Kendrick and Jordan make us forget they’re singing and engage with their acting, which is all you want from most musicals. The tunes are fairly generic, in the modern Broadway idiom (the stage show only made it to off-Broadway). But Lagravenese (“P.S. I Love You”) gets laughs and romantic anticipation out of Kathy’s backstage showstopper, with backing dancers and a snake for company.
The brisk production makes these “Five Years” pass quickly, and Kendrick, with able support from Jordan, makes one long for her to get a shot at other intimate romantic musicals on the big screen. Here’s a film that reminds us that every cinematic song cycle doesn’t have to be as big and meaty as “Chicago” or as effects-packed as “Into the Woods.”
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual material, brief strong language and a drug image
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan
Credits: Written and directed by Richard Lagravenese, based on the Jason Robert Brown musical. A Radius/TWC release.
Running time: 1:34