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The Last Five Years: The Latest, Greatest Musical Movie

In recent years, movie musicals have become the latest trend. From Mamma Mia to Les Mis, musicals of different types are being adapted into screenplays and brought into the eyes of the general public. As an ex-theatre kid, I’ll see each one religiously, but I’ve yet to find one that truly captures the spirit of the original musical. Until February 13, when The Last Five Years was released in select theatres and for streaming.

The Last Five Years tells the story of a relationship between Cathy, a struggling young actress, and Jamie, a novelist who experiences rapid and extreme success. What makes this musical so unique was that it includes only Jamie and Cathy: there are no other actors or characters. The plot of the musical is told both chronologically, from Jamie’s perspective, and in reverse chronological order, from Cathy’s perspective.

The movie adaptation as a whole kept both of these key features. Though the movie did include other actors to play characters, like Jamie’s editor and mistress and Cathy’s roommate, these characters have few lines, and Jamie and Cathy truly are the focus of the film. The movie consisted almost entirely of the original songs, without cutting songs and only changing lyrics to cut f-bombs and update cultural references. The dialogue is kept to a minimum, keeping with the style of the original stage production.

One thing that I loved about The Last Five Years was how they handled the advertising and marketing for the movie. Though the movie did go into many mainstream theatres, it was not heavily advertised like many other movies being released on Valentine’s Day (looking at you, Fifty Shades). The movie wasn’t trying to become the next blockbuster or to attract a more general audience, like almost every other movie in mainstream theatres. Instead, The Last Five Years hoped to attract people who loved the original musical or who learned about the movie.

Another great thing director and screenplay writer Richard LaGravenese did with The Last Five Years was cast actors who were appropriate for the parts. Many musical movies, like Les Miserables, cast big-name actors to attract a larger audience. Some of these actors, like Anne Hathaway, were spot on, but others obviously had very little experience with musical theatre music, such as Russell Crowe. LaGravenese cast Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan as the leads Cathy and Jamie. Though both actors are very famous, both also have experience working with musical theatre-style music, and performed the music beautifully.

Of course, not everyone loves The Last Five Years. The Los Angeles Times criticized the movie for sticking to its musical roots, saying the movie, “is not unpleasant to watch – the leads are delightful – but as a movie experience, it’s not especially satisfying either.” Despite the negative reviews from many, I applaud LaGravenese and the rest of the production team for pushing the boundaries and making a movie that doesn’t bend to what Hollywood wants. Instead, The Last Five Years aimed to please its original audience: musical theatre fans who love the original show for what it is.

Photo credits: Cover, 1, 2

Jessica Phillips is a sophomore double majoring in Public Relations and Psychology at American University. She is a writer for Her Campus American as well as the Internal Events Coordinator. Aside from writing, she loves reading, musical theatre, and chocolate.
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