There’s nothing I love more than a good story that leaves me emotionally wrecked and questioning my life choices. It could be that I’m a masochist, but more likely, that I’m an artist – always seeking a cathartic experience that somehow makes me feel five pounds lighter. And truly nothing gets the mind’s gears turning and waterworks flowing like a masterfully crafted score articulated by actors who just “get it.”
I fell in love with Jason Robert Brown’s musical “The Last 5 Years” about 12 years ago. It was back in the day before album downloads and Amazon orders were the norm, so my friend and I made the journey into New York City to find the scarce soundtrack that I (of course) became obsessed with. We spent the journey back to Jersey listening to the story of Jamie and Kathy. A writer and actress who fall in love and get divorced, all in the span of five years.
What makes the story so compelling (and at first confusing) is that the musical begins at the end of their marriage. In “Still Hurting” Kathy has just found Jamie’s letter that says it’s over. It’s a song that’s so emotionally raw and easy to relate to. Who hasn’t felt the sting of a failed relationship? All understand those moments of anger mixed with numbness and self-pity.
The next song is sung by Jamie at the beginning of their relationship five years earlier, when the two just met and were falling head over heels for each other. In “Shiksa Goddess” Jamie reveals how he’s been waiting for someone like Kathy. The musical then proceeds to bounce back and forth between the two character’s perspectives and places in time – Kathy, traveling backwards, and Jamie moving forwards. The couple’s perspectives meet at the middle when they wed and then continue to move in their respective directions.
What’s amazing about the concept is that it offers the viewer the ability to see what went right and then so wrong. We all replay conversations, events, and relationships in our minds and wonder when did things change? Or what was the catalyst that affected it all? While watching Jamie and Kathy’s relationship unfold and build all at the same time the viewer can’t help but think about their own lives and relate to those universally human moments that shape our journey and leave us vulnerable.
So after memorizing every word from the original cast CD and then seeing the Off-Broadway revival, (Betsy Wolfe was phenomenal) I was counting down the days until I could see the film version of this masterpiece. And thankfully, it did not disappoint.
Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan were a delightful match. Both were able to deliver the difficult score with ease and sincerity. However, I have to say, Jeremy Jordan stole the show. His flawless vocals, acting choices, and humor were so spot on I found him to be the more likable character, despite his infidelity. The long camera shots, Broadway star cameos, and use of New York City streets made the film a real treat.
Did I enjoy the film better than the stage musical? No. I don’t think anyone ever does really.The energy and live-ness of a stage performance is just unmatched in any other medium. But it was cool to see the couple interact in every scene. (In the stage performance they only appear together in the middle, when their stories coincide). And major props to wardrobe for tweaking each character’s look to reflect the passage of time.
Well, that does it for my self-indulgent musing over a musical most of you have never heard of but should really hear often. I do hope this post inspires readers to not only check it out, but spend a few moments experiencing and appreciating new forms of art — while curling up in a puddle of your own warm tears.