Love stories, ammiright? I mean how many times can we tell the same series of events over and over and over again? Boy and girl meet. Boy and girl do stuff that’s biologically totally normally but socially complicated and weird. Boy and girl either end up happily ever after, or they don’t. Pass.
Yeah right. From the beginning of time until the inevitable zombie apocalypse (about which there have already ALSO been love stories written…), we humans will continue to write tales about love, lust, and everything that gets mixed up in between. But sometimes one of us gets it beautifully, painfully, wonderfully perfect. One of those times was Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years; a time-twisting musical Brown wrote about his own love story, which culminated in divorce and sadness (and, as a result of her depiction in the musical, a lawsuit with his now ex-wife). Last week, an official trailer came out for the movie version of The Last Five Years, and between S-C staff writer Sam and I we’ve watched it about fifty times since its release.
From Page to Stage
BUT! Some of you nerds may be interjecting. “The Last Five Years’ only lasted off-Broadway for two months! How could you be excited? Well, nerds, calm down. I’ve seen that production. I know why it managed to open in March and close in May. I also saw a re-staging in Baltimore a few years back, directed with tongue so firmly in cheek that I wanted to claw my eyes out. But good luck taking the soundtrack away from me, or getting me to listen to it without singing along.
There are only two actors in the entire play–Jamie, Brown’s stage persona, and the object* of his affection, Cathy. The story is told in two different directions simultaneously: Cathy starts from the end and works backwards while Jamie starts from the beginning, and they swap off in a series of solos. The only song they technically share is the proposal scene in the very middle, which is a heartbreaking song called “The Next Ten Minutes”. The soundtrack is beautiful from start to finish with one glaring exception–“The Schmuel Song”– which I personally find grating and obnoxious but perhaps that’s because I’ve never seen it staged interestingly**. This is one story where knowing the end doesn’t ruin the journey in the least. The fact that Jamie’s exuberant declarations of something new in his first song are matched by Cathy’s lamentations of something ending sets you up for heartbreak from the very first note. It sort of makes you wonder why we ever fall in love in the first place, when normally there aren’t even masterfully crafted violin sections helping illustrate how each step made us feel along the way.
And From Stage to Screen
The movie should be able to fix many of the problems that The Last Five Years runs into on stage, which typically include a lack of other live bodies. For two people who apparently fall into and out of love based heavily on what society tells them they SHOULD be doing, a cast of two does not illustrate that society plays any part at all. The small cast also makes it an attractive play for community theatres, who, in my experience, use little to no set or lighting design–and what they do use is frequently very literal in an otherwise subtle show. The movie already looks like a labor of love on the parts of Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, who star as the lovers doomed from the start. Jordan even personally assured me that my fears about Schmuel are baseless, by responding to one of my cranky tweets on the matter.
— Jeremy Jordan (@JeremyMJordan) September 19, 2014
Kendrick has done some super nerdy tweeting of her own on the matter of the film, as seen below in this conversation about musical keys:
My co-writer Sam’s reaction is summed up as follows: “The trailer opens the same way as the soundtrack: ‘Jamie is over and Jamie is gone.’ As Anna Kendrick sung those seven words and the music trickled into the background I couldn’t help but feel a sense of calm. Cathy’s opener ‘I’m Still Hurting’ is easily one of the most heartbreaking songs in a musical about relationships. The trailer couldn’t have been a better way to exhibit the always beautiful voice of Miss Kendrick and the sultry sounds of Jeremy Jordan. Here’s the thing, I’m still scared that one of my favorite musicals could be an awful film. But for right now, in this moment, everything hurts, and oddly enough, everything is okay.” It’s that complexity of pain and happiness that makes The Last Five Years so habit forming–and the trailer highlights just a few of the best songs in the show. I think the film format, and some expanded dialogue, will do this musical good. Gaps will be filled in where before there was only conjecture, and for a musical that asks so many complex questions about love and loss, we don’t need any added inquiries.
Another reaction I’ve gotten is from my younger sister, who was attracted to the trailer by her total fan-boner for Jeremy Jordan.*** She is not unfamiliar with the musical, having grown up in a house with,well, me, but the actors were definitely the main draw for her . “My first impression of the trailer was to scream, because I had waited long enough for a trailer and release date–but I’m really just looking forward to seeing how well they did a movie with essentially a two person cast. I’m really looking forward to seeing Jeremy Jordan’s chemistry with Anna Kendrick, which will have to drive the movie.” The first day that the trailer was live, she sent me a series of screengrabs in an email titled “3 of the many reasons Jeremy Jordan’s going to be amazing”. This was my favorite from among her selections:
I think my work here is done.
The Last Five Years comes out, somewhat cruelly, on Valentine’s Day 2015.
*I use “object” here very deliberately
**Fellow Sub-Cultured writer Sam firmly disagrees with this assessment as he loves The Schmuel Song, but you know. This isn’t his article. So…
***when he tweeted at me she threatened never to speak with me again. Also she might have more than just a fan-boner for him.