Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes.
Grade:  A-
Director:  Richard LaGravenese
Screenwriter:  Richard LaGravenese, based on the musical, lyrics and music by Jason Robert Brown
Cast:  Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan
Screened at:  Review 1, NYC, 1/29/15
Opens:  February 13, 2015

As the song says, breaking up is hard to do, and this is true especially when you’re young, you’ve shared passionate love, your capacity to feel is at its peak.  Thus when Cathy Hiatt (Anna Kendrick), looking as though the world has collapsed around her, sings “Still Hurting,” with the lyrics “Jamie is over, Jamie is gone,” we in the audience may not be surprised to find a tear or two dropping from our faces.  And that’s just in the beginning!  There is little doubt that any of us who have loved and lost—and who has not?—can relate to Cathy’s sadness, so resonant her depression, so exquisite her voice.

“The Last Five Years” is a movie based on the off-Broadway musical with Jason Robert Brown’s music and lyrics, and how much better this screen version must be when compared to the staging!  When we learn that its presentation on an off-Broadway stage was a two-hander with the couple appearing mostly as separate individuals belting out their exuberance or, conversely moaning as though carrying the woes of the world, we are grateful for the medium of cinema under the direction of Brooklyn-born Richard LaGravenese—known for helming “Beautiful Creatures” about a couple who find out dark secrets about their families, and “P.S. I Love You,” in which a young widow finds ten messages from her late husband designed to ease her pain.  With “The Last Five Years,” photographer Steven Meizler films in the streets of New York City, his lensing complemented by Sabine Hoffman’s rapid editing and a remarkable number of Begona Berges’s costumes.

When Cathy opens the story after her five-year marriage ends, her ex-husband, Jamie Wellerstein (Jeremy Jordan) opens his vocals at the beginning of their courtship.   Though this relationship seems made in heaven, largely because of the stunning chemistry between Jordan and Kendrick, their bliss seems doomed to collapse under the strain of their growing in separate ways.  While Jamie becomes a huge success, his manuscripts turning into #1 best-selling novels, Cathy cannot make the grade as an actress despite her exquisite voice, her motivation, her ability to act and her good looks.  In this last department I had never before considered Anna Kendrick for a romantic lead, perhaps because of the detestable character she played as Natalie Keener, a hatchet woman in Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air.”  In this movie, the best Cathy can do is to perform in Ohio summer stock, the difficulties of making it in the entertainment industry shown in one scene in which Cathy is competing for a single role with two dozen other young women.

Like “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” one of the best of the cinema musicals, “The Last Five Years” is almost completely sung, the lyrics shifting from the most exhilarating love to the saddest regrets.  The story is based on the real-life adventures of the lyricist, Jason Robert Brown, who appears in the movie as the piano accompanist during one of Cathy’s auditions.

Rated PG-13.  94 minutes.  (c) Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A-


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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