Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Last Five Years on Screen: Feeling is Enough, with Music

It's not the tale but the telling that makes the film adaptation of The Last Five Years wonderful.

Supple, expressive songs by Jason Roberts Brown articulate and enlarge the characters' thoughts and feelings in a variety of styles. The camera, directed by Richard LaGravenese,  also enlarges the characters' faces, expressive and appealing. "Jamie"(Jeremy Jordan) and "Cathy" (Anna Kendrick) fall in love, marry, then grow apart as his career becomes "the other woman" (actual other women being his accessories).

It's a familiar story made fresh by the author's manipulation of time.  At the start, "Jamie" has left to pursue his career, and "Cathy" is "still hurting."  We see her, tears in her eyes, take off the wedding ring, the watch, the bracelet. But then we see Jamie burst into an apartment with Cathy wrapped around his thighs, singing to his "Shiksa Goddess" about how crazy he is about her.   He's at the start of the relationship, moving forward, giving her along the way that bracelet, the watch, and the wedding ring; she's at the end, looking backward; we see their opposing trajectories in alternating scenes, meeting midway at the wedding. 

The most magical song of the movie is the story of "Shmuel," a song in Brown's best Fiddler-on-the-Roof  style, in which energetic "Jamie" tries to lift dispirited "Cathy" to see herself in a fable about a tailor who has a chance to use time in a new way.  Performing as husband, tailor, spirit, and old Yiddish narrator, Jordan performs the number with verve and precision, tugging "Cathy" out of her funk.  It's staged for "Jamie" to dramatize his whimsical story from cloth, lamps, and holiday decor found in the apartment

All the other songs are so honest that they make us smile and hurt.  The hurt is always there, because we know how it turns out, though we hope against hope that these sweet, well-intentioned, beautiful people with their soaring voices are going to somehow get back together.

I had mixed feelings about the stage show.  (Read reflection here.) The movie is able to round out the story in a new way, and I love it.

My only qualm is this:  Betrayal, by Harold Pinter, also told its story backwards, peeling layer after layer off the original impression we get of the affair.  Betrayal thus builds to a revelation that the situation was never so clear-cut as we thought.  In the end of this one, have we learned anything new?  I can't think of anything revealed by the criss-crossing of time, only an uptick in sympathy for the boy.  Feeling is the point:  At any given moment, we're feeling the exhilaration of young love and ambition, while we're also feeling sympathy with the loss of the same.

Well, with all the music, the lyrics, the acting, the scenery, the dancing and glorious voices to appreciate -- feeling is enough. 

[See my Sondheim page for many other reflections on matters relating to the composer that Jason Roberts Brown "worships" (his own word) Sondheim, his shows, and musical theatre more generally.]

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