You’d probably never guess unless you knew me well, but I am a fan of musicals — when they’re good. Even the new Annie update had enough skip in its step to make for an underrated feel-good time. I also love everything from Chicago to Moulin Rouge to Singin’ in the Rain and High Society.The musicals I have a rough time with are the all-singing, no-dialogue ones. Sweeney Todd was devilishly hilarious, but Into the Woods just left me cold. The newest edition to this musical variety is writer/director Richard LaGravenese’s adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s musical play The Last Five Years.
While the story structure — told from the leads’ points of view in reverse of one another — and star Anna Kendrick do what they can, the film is burdened by co-star Jeremy Jordan. He may have the singing chops, but he’s got a lot to learn when it comes to acting.
We start our story with poor Cathy (Kendrick) lamenting the end of her marriage to Jamie (Jordan). Cutting back and forth, we see both the development and deconstruction of their relationship. Cathy provides the reverse chronology, while Jamie starts at the beginning. The two sing their hearts out as the story reaches a crossroads and the story flips as they begin to sing from the opposite angle with Cathy showing her side of the beginning and Jamie enlightening us to the end. Jamie becomes a bestselling writer, while Cathy continues her dead-end acting aspirations. They eventually deal with their own issues ranging from neglect to jealousy and resentment leading to their marriage’s demise.
The Last Five Years belts onto Blu-ray with a serviceable enough transfer, but it may leave some thinking they need to clean their glasses. Softness prevails, with fine detail rarely in sight. While the cast’s hair is never out of place, clothing and scenery take a huge hit. Everything from trees and grass to Jamie’s five o’clock shadow all appear smudgy with costume details always lacking. Crush is never an issue — even though the image is oddly never as bright as it could be, it’s as if LaGravenese filmed every scene under an umbrella. And while aliasing never makes an appearance, there is a scene involving Skype with some noticeable noise. Colors also seem pumped up with skin tones achieving an orangey glow in a lot of scenes. Nothing is a deal-breaker, but this is not the kind of presentation you’d expect from a brand new film. I suspect plenty of post-production is the culprit.
At least where a musical counts, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track keeps the music clean and clear. The only downside to the audio is the use of live singing with some of the lines not being as clear as they should, causing a distraction because you have no idea what the character is talking about. Surrounds are kept to a minimum making the track rather front heavy. Bass keeps some of the bouncier tracks bobbing along, and the soundstage is full and dynamic. It’s not going to blow you away, but it gets the job done. Included subtitles are English SDH and Spanish, with a “Sing Along Subtitles” special feature which is obviously just standard subtitles since the whole film is sung. The only other included feature is the very brief “A Conversation with Composer/Lyricist Jason Robert Brown” (3:57) where he quickly discusses how glad he is to have LaGravenese directing and how much he loves the two leads.
The Last Five Years features a stellar performance from Kendrick who sings her guts out. Not to put down Jordan, but if he could act as well as he sings, he would have been so much better. The music keeps the pace moving along, even if Jamie starts to lose any hope of redemption as his character spirals into being a huge cheater looking for empathy. Singing an entire song complaining about being stuck with one lover after proposing does him no favors. If their relationship had a villain, it’s him. With a so-so video presentation and serviceable audio, The Last Five Years is a nice blip on Kendrick’s growing resume and just continues to prove that she can carry a film on her own, no matter the co-star.
Photos courtesy Starz/Anchor Bay