In the last five years, Anna Kendrick "type[d] with purpose" to an Oscar nomination for Up in the Air, carried the a cappella Bellas to a national championship and shook off her role in the Twilight franchise to become a bona-fide star in her own right. But with The Last Five Years, Kendrick shines in yet another musical as Cathy Hiatt, the ultimate "Shiksa Goddess" - even though the movie doesn't work.
The TIFF red carpet interviews for The Last Five Years were cancelled on the day of the premiere and the film's overall performance could be the reason why.
Based on the cult classic off-Broadway title of the same name, the story chronicles the five year odd coupling of Jamie Wallerstein (Jeremy Jordan, of Smash fame), a novelist and Nice Jewish Boy, and Cathy, a struggling actress from Ohio. In the sing-through musical (think Rent - but with more voicemail hymns), both reflect on their relationship, opposing success and different cultural backgrounds using song - she from the end, and he from the initial meet-cute.
Yes, it's meant to be campy. But writer-director Richard LaGravenese's adaptation is cotton candy. Saccharine and way too over-the-top, Cathy and Jamie's unlikely love affair plays out like a failed rom=com sitcom pilot with a poorly-placed laugh track. The majority of the film is shot in close-up, and with shaky-cam, which detracts from its excellent soundtrack and earnest performances from Kendrick and Jordan. It's a good concept, and certainly faithful to its Jason Robert Brown source material, but even longtime fans of the musical will think LaGravenese could have done better than that. When Kendrick's Cathy croons that Jamie "doesn't have to eat prosciutto," the rhythm feels out of balance, not for lack of chemistry, but for a lack of cinematic focus. Shot while driving to meet her parents in Ohio, you can't help but feel claustrophobic.
With no breaths, or room for pause in between scenes, the emotional resonance of songs regarding the fear of failure (romantically or professionally) or joys of success are completely lost. Stylistically off throughout, Kendrick and Jordan's superb renditions of beloved songs like "A Summer in Ohio" and "A Miracle Would Happen" are drowned out by their respective staging.
In other words, buy the soundtrack, but you don't have to buy a ticket. With two more musicals on the way, Into the Woods and Pitch Perfect 2, Kendrick will have a shot at redemption, even though she doesn't need it.