Jason Robert Brown re-examines The Last Five Years once again — this time on film. The big-screen adaptation, directed by Richard LaGravenese, hits select theatres Feb. 13, with Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick as the couple at its core.
The semi-autobiographical, two-person musical documents a five-year relationship of a couple falling in and out of love and is told through a series of solo songs. Cathy tells her story from end to beginning, with Jamie chronicling the relationship from beginning to end; the two meet at the middle, their wedding and the turning point of the show.
Unlike the stage version, songs and scenes in "The Last Five Years" are fully imagined, with Jamie and Cathy singing to each other and the obstacles of their relationship coming to life. We revisit the score, a third version that is now preserved with Tony nominees Jordan and Kendrick, and break down the movie track by track. Beware of spoilers (!), or watch the movie (in select theatres or Video On Demand) before reading.
We begin at "Still Hurting," the end of Cathy and Jamie's five-year relationship. Anna Kendrick sets the tone in the first tune. She's stoic, she's solid and, in the film, sings through a clenched jaw at a desk in her apartment. Her choices and vocal inflections make her sound emotionally drained ("What about you Jamie? What about you?" at 1:55 is frail, as she realizes the relationship is over) and broken (listen to 2:47, when she sings, "Go and find something better"). The bitterness in her voice rings through.
Jeremy Jordan's first shining moment is "Shiksa Goddess," in which he sings to Cathy in a bedroom just moments prior to having sex. We love the giddiness in his voice and the speak-singing moments from the very beginning. (That laugh at :27 seconds in is adorably fitting!) Jordan is humorous throughout, and now we're totally curious about what happened between Jamie and past flame Lisa Katz (why does he say her name like that at 1:33?). He gives a nice nod to Norbert Leo Butz's final riff (an embellishment not written into the song's sheet music) on the original Off-Broadway cast album at 3:48. Adam Kantor's ending on the recent Off-Broadway recording more closely reflects what's written.
"See I'm Smiling"
First off, we're in love with the gorgeous piano/string intro for this song that is not heard on either recording of The Last Five Years, and the faint sounds of the outdoors is a real nice touch since this song is set on a dock. Of course, Kendrick is giving another heartbreaking performance as she tries to find compromise and middle ground with Jamie. The music shift at 3:32 is perfect, and the drums coming in around 4:09 (setting the tempo and amplifying her anger) is great. (And, OMG! Anna Kendrick's breath at 4:49… #acting #choices.)
"Moving Too Fast"
First of all, how brilliant is it to set this song (entitled "Moving Too Fast") on a bicycle? All you really need here are Jeremy Jordan's riffs from 2:06-2:25 and 3:15-3:28 (the option up on "rolling along"!) — they're pretty epic. Oh, yeah, and then there's his Bonnie & Clyde-style growl at 3:36. ("Raise a Little Hell," anyone?)
"A Part of That"
Anna Kendrick's "A Part of That" is one of the most sincere and genuine performances of this song. She attacks the lyrics with nuance, and any sound of excitement in her voice is received with a heartbreaking reaction because three minutes in, her tone changes as she realizes she's, in fact, not "a part of" Jamie's life the way she wishes she could be.
"The Schmuel Song"
So, "The Schmuel Song" is the longest in the score (aside from the finale), clocking in at 7:42 on this recording. However, Jeremy Jordan gives the song new life, imagining Schmuel as an old Jewish man with a raggedy voice. The way he switches from Jamie to Schmuel is seamless and makes the song seem fresh. We also love the way he rhymes "Klimovich" with "Limb-avich." The end of this song is heard in a new way in this rendition because Jamie is actually singing to Cathy, unlike in the stage show. You can hear Cathy's reaction and interaction, making things more exciting. Plus, aren't the last 35 seconds of this tune one of the best moments in the show? ("Have I mentioned today how lucky I am to be in love with you?" … Cue the first of many tears!)
"A Summer in Ohio"
"A Summer in Ohio" is one of the best moments in the film. Anna Kendrick's Cathy is in Ohio doing summer stock (Fiddler on the Roof, Porgy and Bess, Anita at the matinee!), and she's Skyping with Jeremy Jordan's Jamie. (How cute that the song is half Skype session with Jamie/half dream sequence in summer stock rehearsal?) Also, check out the lyric change at 1:52 from "Borders" to "Target." Borders book stores closed in 2011! Plus, this number has some great choreography, a cameo from the revival's Cathy, Betsy Wolfe, and a nod to "Something Good" from The Sound of Music (during "Son of a bitch, I guess I'm doing something right. I finally got something right!").
"The Next Ten Minutes"
Okay, so we've hit the meeting point of Jamie and Cathy — the first and only duet in the score and the only time the pair interacts in the stage production. All we have to say is: Grab a tissue!
"A Miracle Would Happen/When You Come Home to Me"
What a vocally impressive moment in the film! Anna Kendrick is giving a great mix around the 3-minute mark during "When You Come Home to Me," in which she is singing for a casting director played by original Cathy Sherie Rene Scott. And, we can't get enough of Jeremy Jordan's option up on "I'll be there" at 4:17 and on "Finally be here" at 4:35. Wow!
The new orchestrations, with that pounding drumbeat, from :15-:28 are giving us life! After an audition, Cathy immediately calls Jamie to complain about her struggles (note the lyric change from "Daddy" to "Jamie" at :30). Make sure you catch Kendrick's audition sequence beginning at 1:39. Jason Robert Brown is the problematic accompanist in the movie! Also, the Linda Blair reference at 2:32 is changed from "Why am I working so hard? These are the people who cast Linda Blair in a musical" to "Russell Crowe," referencing Crowe's much-talked-about performance in the film adaptation of Les Misérables.
"If I Didn't Believe in You"
It's all about the acting in "If I Didn't Believe in You." Jeremy Jordan delivers some great speak-singing lines through his frustration of trying to get Cathy to understand his point of view. He effortlessly slides through tender moments and bouts of anger, but when he says, "Will you listen to me?" at 3:27, our heart breaks. All of this is only amplified in the film, with a camera constantly on Kendrick's face. He croons, she cries, and we slowly fall apart in our movie seat. #goingthroughit
"I Can Do Better Than That"
What a true highlight of the film. Kendrick's performance of "I Can Do Better Than That" is one of the best performances of this song. The happiness in her voice saturates the score, plus she's offering you some fantastic vocal embellishments at 3:21 ("Totally mine") and 4:39 (the riff down on "We can do better!" … OMG!). Besides, isn't "I Can Do Better Than That" the song you have on replay, anyway?
"Nobody Needs to Know"
"Nobody Needs to Know" is one of the longer songs in The Last Five Years, but Jordan delivers another solid performance of yet another heartbreaking melody. For one of the first times in the film, Cathy is barely present because Jamie is cheating on her while she's away at summer stock. We're hanging onto each lyric in this song, as we're going back and forth between whether or not we're Team Jamie or Team Cathy. Jason Robert Brown, you slay us with your lyrics!
"Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You"
"Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You" is such a bittersweet moment. It's both the beginning and end of Cathy and Jamie. Yet again, all we can say is: Grab a tissue! And, make sure to check out the movie for one of the best cinematic moments in recent movie/musicals and to see how everything comes full circle on film.
Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.