The Last 5 Years by Tony award winning composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown is a musical deconstruction of a love affair and a marriage taking place over a five year period. Jamie Wellerstein is a young, talented up and coming Jewish novelist who falls in love with Cathy Hiatt, a Shiksa Goddess struggling actress. Their story is told almost entirely through songs using an intercutting time line device; all of Cathy's songs begin at the end of their marriage and move backwards in time to the beginning of their love affair while Jamie's songs start at the beginning of their affair and move forward to the end of their marriage. They meet in the center when Jamie proposes.Written by
Having seen an amazing production of this in Auckland (Last Tapes Theatre Company), this much more expensive, full blown movie fell flat for me. I think Jason Robert Brown's musical was ultimately misunderstood here.
The structure in the original is that they sing solo, him starting at the start, her at the end, they meet in the middle when they get married and share their only duet, and then spin off into solo again. Although "together", each is alone inside his/her own emotions, and although trying to connect, they constantly miss each other. Only when they are getting married and singing a duet are they really in sync. The movie muddled this by trying to have both him and her taking part in every song throughout. An acting challenge that failed :/ The best moments were when they were singing to no one in particular, for her it was "Jamie is over and Jamie is done" and for him "Hold on, the panic recedes". This was when the actors were finally allowed to perform the songs the way they were supposed to be performed.
Basically, I thing the focus of each song is supposed to be on the subjective experience. But the movie missed this point, and tried to make every song mimic a real life conversation. This failed, although you could see how hard both actors were trying. The chemistry was very forced. Singing a conversation is awkward enough, but the lyrics are so deep and vulnerable, no one would say those things aloud. It was especially awkward when they were sung at his friends in a bar or at reporters at a party. Those poor extras on the receiving end of the songs didn't know what to do with themselves. The songs are meant to be confidante confessions to the audience, coming from deep within the characters, obviously not casual conversation. In general, the misunderstanding of the unique genre and structure of the original transformed The Last Five Years into a cringey, low-level musical.
The original is actually more a song cycle, it has virtually no spoken dialogue, like an opera. And it creates the same height of emotion as opera does. Performed, even if the director lacks creativity to make it come alive believably, it should at least not distract us from the amazing poetry in the lyrics. But there was a lot of (really crappy) dialogue inserted, a lot of unnecessary shots of miscellaneous stuff that was really distracting during the singing.
Instead of an incredibly powerful set of insights into how relationships dissolve, this was just another Hollywoody movie about guy meets girl. And what's sad is now the majority will think that that's what The Last Five Years is. But it's actually so much more than that!
Having said that, no matter how badly adapted, I don't think The Last Five Years could ever suck, the score and text is just too amazing and this will shine through. And despite awkwardness, there were some really good moments from both him and her. I would recommend listening to the songs rather than watching this movie though, or better still, try and see it live.
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