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Exactly three months ago, I sat in the audience at the Tonys as Jason Robert Brown collected best original score and best orchestrations prizes for his musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County, which starred a fantastic Kelli O’Hara but had recently closed after struggling at the box office and being denied a best musical nomination. It was, as Brown conveyed from the podium, a very bittersweet night for him.
Sunday night was, perhaps, even sweeter for Brown, I sensed from a seat directly behind his at the Toronto International Film Festival’s world premiere of The Last 5 Years, Richard LaGravanese‘s big screen adaptation of a musical of the same name for which Brown wrote the book, music and lyrics back in 2001 en route to an off-Broadway debut in 2002 and revival in 2013. Indeed, as Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan belted out the show’s poppy numbers, to the delight of a crowd that erupted in applause mid-movie several times, he silently lip-synced along.
There’s a reason why RADiUS-TWC snapped up the film’s U.S. distribution rights last Friday, and it’s not just that the film will draw legions of musical-theater lovers. It’s also at least partly because there are several Golden Globe categories that specifically recognize musicals or comedies, as opposed to dramas, and musicals, which are few and far between these days, tend to land noms in them when eligible — even merely middling ones like Hairspray (2007), Mamma Mia! (2008), Nine (2009) and Burlesque (2010).
This one is arguably better than any of those, and, in some ways, marks a return to the sort of musical that was popular in Hollywood during the genre’s Golden Age of the 1950s. They were frequently adapted from acclaimed New York stage productions with simple plots and catchy songs performed by actors who spontaneously and earnestly burst into song as their characters’ emotions dictated. All of the above also apply to this one, the chronologically jumpy story of a young couple falling in love and then falling out of love a half-decade later.
Among the things it has going for it, in addition to Brown’s catchy soundtrack: leads who are both vocally-equipped and physically-attractive (Jordan looks like a young Brad Pitt and Kendrick, with her big emotive eyes, looks like girl next door, in the best sense); several sexy scenarios (of the sort that could never have gotten past the censors in the old days); and cheeky but laugh-out-loud humor (i.e. Kendrick asks in a song, “Why am I working so hard to please people who cast Russell Crowe in a musical?”).
The only knocks on it that I would submit are that the non-linear structure seems unnecessary and not a heck of a lot happens overall, story-wise — but these concerns are easily outweighed by the joy of seeing an endangered art form revived.
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