After watching Disney’s Newsies the Broadway Musical with Jeremy Jordan I was remembering how I missed his vocal talent. I found him when I was watching Smash 6 years ago before it was canceled. I adored him then & on Supergirl. The Last Five Years was recommended to add to my viewing list. To my delight, a quick search showed Jeremy Jordan stars opposite Anna Kendrick. Looking at the date, 2014, this was released in the middle of her musical movie run just after Pitch Perfect the previous year and Into the Woods just a few months following this movie. Last Five Years is based on Jason Robert Brown’s musical of the same name whereas the film is written and directed by Richard LaGravenese.

Going into The Last Five Years I felt ill-prepared for the next 94 minutes of an emotionally deep musical film. Don’t get me wrong, I love musicals. I live for musicals. There were a couple of historical decades when musicals were a vehicle for diversion from the despair and war. This musical is no escape, rather each song gives a nonsequential timeline of Jordan and Kendrick’s characters through their relationship over the course of five years.

The Music

The first song “Still Hurting” belongs to Kendrick is when I knew this was a different kind of musical. The long sweeping camera movements resting still on her face created such intimacy. She sang with a deep sadness and vulnerability. I could not tell if she had no makeup on her face beyond lipstick or it was so delicate it provided a naked, raw feel to her. This is rarely seen in movies or TV. Immediately after that heartbreaking moment was a serious time sequence shift to the beginning of the relationship with “Shiksa Goddess” sung by Jordan. The energy and passion was completely the opposite in every way. It left me wondering how did Jordan end up writing the letter shown from “Still Hurting”. It left me wanting more to be revealed for both characters.

The speaking dialog is used sparingly for context purposes and most dialog between the lead actors is sung. The film continues with the non-linear narrative. It wasn’t immediately clear, or I was enjoying the songs too much, to figure out the out of sequence timelines at first. Kendrick’s timeline of songs are moving backward in time and Jordan’s songs are starting at the beginning of the relationship moving forward. The only songs they share are in the middle where they overlap timelines. “The Next Ten Minutes” is a paired song, for once. This song and dynamic were what I was hoping for when I started the movie. The long wait & selective use made the song that much more impactful.

After the shared song, the stories continue with each other’s unique perspective in solo. This is when emotions begin to reach the climax for each character in their respective timeline.  It is a great tool to show Jordan’s character defects contrasting to Kendrick’s. There are two other songs which are sung separately but shown in unison. The following song shows their separate perspectives. The final song “Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You” is brought both sadness and hope. Kenrick’s voice shines in this song. The string orchestra support provides an uplifting undertone even though you know the outcome from the beginning.

The Technical

As I mentioned earlier, the choice in camera movements helped create the feeling of intimacy in the first musical number. Throughout the film, other cinematography choices were made helping the film and impacting it in less than helpful ways. A few scenes had a handheld camera with close shots and it didn’t work for me. One of Kendrick’s early solos with Jordan’s sung dialog was filmed on a dock limiting the actors’ mobility. Early on in the song, it was filmed in close up two shots or medium two shots allowing the audience to see the reactions and body language. The steady cam was most noticeable when it was edited in between a handheld camera. It worked for this song due to the emotionality of the moment adding heightened tension.

The use of the handheld in one specific environment early on in Jordan’s “Moving Too Fast” was necessary due to the need for a close-up but it was not fluid and negatively impacted the short segment of the film. In contrast, later on in the song, the ultra close up in the elevator which is even more restricted allowed for the panicked feelings to be conveyed.

Jordan’s “If I Didn’t Believe in You” was filmed in a way to visually communicate tension and isolation. The primary focus is on Kendrick’s reaction to Jordan’s lyrics. The camera held steady and followed beautifully. The cuts are rare making for a strong emotionally filled sequence.

Most of the time, they try to use natural light in songs or segments of songs allowing the cinematographer to utilize natural lighting. In “Summer in Ohio” there is a mix of interior lighting and natural lighting. The best use of natural lighting was Kendrick in a long hallway with windows on both sides. Another great use of light was in the in the final number “Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You” opens with sunrise adding warm orange tones on Kendrick. When Jordan begins his portion, he has split toning with the warmth from outside and a deep blue backlit within the house.

Looking into color theory, blue represents seriousness, trust, & loyalty whereas, orange gives the viewer a sense of happiness, joy, and encouragement. The sunrise positioned around Kendrick and Jordan established a beautiful scene to finish to the film’s final musical number.

The Last Five Years is currently available on Netflix.

Grade: B-

Renee Spencer
renee.walstad@gmail.com

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