'The Last 5 Years': What the Critics Are Saying
Adapted by Richard LaGravenese from the 2002 cult stage hit, the musical romance stars Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan as they recount their relationship from two perspectives.
Anna Kendrick plays a struggling actress opposite Jeremy Jordan, a successful novelist, both recounting their severed relationship in The Last 5 Years, Richard LaGravenese's intimate adaptation of Jason Robert Brown's 2002 off-Broadway musical — a cult-hit since then. The stage version's structural trick is that it charts her experience in reverse, starting at the shattered conclusion, and his in standard forward chronology, beginning with love’s transporting bloom. With minimal dialogue, they share just one full duet when their accounts intersect.
The Weinstein Co. picked up North American rights on the eve of the film's Toronto premiere, and is giving it a Valentine’s Day weekend release through its RADiUS label, offering limited moviegoers another option besides the R-rated Fifty Shades of Grey and Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Read what top critics are saying about The Last 5 Years:
The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney writes, "There must have been some spark of inspiration that made director LaGravenese believe this hermetic construct might benefit from the larger breathing space of screen treatment. But it doesn’t. ... The problem is that the romance as depicted is just not interesting enough to sustain realistic treatment. It's sweet but a tad dull. The two characters lack dimension, and their stereotypical situations seem entirely generic. This has always been the case in a piece admired more for the lush melodies and naked emotions of Brown’s theater-pop score than for its storytelling. The evolution of the relationship is the show’s entire universe, and putting that relationship against a real-world backdrop exposes the narrative as emaciated and mundane."
Additionally, "it also doesn’t help that the movie looks messy, with flat interior lighting and so many awkward confessional close-ups that it starts to seem like a selfie video. And given that there are essentially only two characters, when other people are involved in a scene they too often stand around during songs without a clue how to react." Still, "Kendrick and Jordan make a charming pair. Their musical backgrounds are evident in the confidence and depth of feeling they bring to the songs, but also the ease with which they shift back and forth between rom-com breeziness and full-blown passion, be it the soaring highs or the heartsick lows."
The Guardian's Jordan Hoffman notes, "The tunes are so catchy you may wonder if you’ve taken part in some Manchurian Candidate-like experiment. But this queer familiarity enables you to focus not only on the lyrics, but on the non-verbal drama between the two leads. ... What’s most exciting is how, unless you are attuned to small, modern musical theatre, this will be an entirely fresh production, but not an amateur one." Regarding the two actors, Jordan more than holds his own, but Kendrick is spectacular."
New York Daily News' Elizabeth Weitzman says, "Kendrick and Jordan are earnest and often appealing in The Last 5 Years, even if the musical romance never completely finds its footing." Of the songs, "the actors are good enough to sell many of the standalone songs — particularly the witty complaint 'A Summer in Ohio,'" but "others, like the broadly comedic 'Shiksa Goddess,' feel especially corny when blown up on the big screen." Yet "what’s even more problematic: LaGravenese can’t figure out how to effectively portray the play’s complex parallel chronology. ... In the grander scheme of an impersonal cineplex, it’s an uphill climb."
New York Post's Lou Lumenick explains, "This adaptation of an off-Broadway musical deserves better than a token theatrical release to support its distribution via video-on-demand. ... The music for Brown’s songs sounds kind of generic, but his lyrics are bitingly clever." Of the cast, "Broadway veteran Jordan is almost as good a singer as she is, but he’s not a good enough or charismatic enough actor (at least on the screen) to flesh out his thinly sketched character, who succumbs to the temptations of success even as it drives a wedge between him and his beloved wife. Kendrick does the dramatic heavy lifting here as a woman struggling to break free from her husband’s large shadow and find her destiny."