A Night at the Movies: The Last Five Years

So guess whose cable provider had The Last Five Years available on-demand? Yep, this girl’s! I spent the better part of my Friday night watching The Last Five Years twice. (I was given a 2-day rental and wanted to watch it as many times as possible.) I wasn’t sure how they were going to do the high-concept play given the anachronistic order of the songs. But from what I heard, this movie was made for the theater fans first.

It’s clear that they had the theater fans in mind when they start up this movie because it starts out with Cathy (played by Anna Kendrick) looking at the letter that Jamie left her. There’s little to no action, but a lot of different camera angles that lets the audience know that this story won’t have a happy ending. (“I can see the end as it begins” says Taylor Swift.) The instrumental interlude that acts as the bridge of the song is shown with pictures of times gone by. At the end of the scene, Cathy walks to the bedroom and takes off a bracelet, a watch, and her rings. But before you’re left wondering where things go from there, we are taken back…

I am highly highly disappointed that “Shiksa Goddess” was done as a sex scene instead of a first date. And yes, there are people who sleep on the first date. The movie implies that this might be the case for Jamie and Cathy. If that’s what they intended, the two of them were doomed from the start. Anyway, before the two of them get it on, Jamie (played by Jeremy Jordan) talks about all the Jewish girls from back home he dated, who are shown in shadows with minimal lighting, showing that to Jamie, these girls were just shadows, a sea of barely-there faces to him. Then the two of them get straight to business. It’s thankfully PG-13 as far as sex scenes go. (As someone who’s seen Seasons 6 and 7 of Buffy, it’s about comparable with the sex scenes from that particular show.) The scene ends with Jamie and Cathy the next morning, still making out on her stairwell.

The next scene takes us out to Ohio. According to the album sleeve, several of the songs were filmed live. This is one of them, with the audience being able to hear birds chirping. The sweater that Cathy wears is definitely funny, but not what I imagined as a “Daisy Mae” sweater. Knowing what I know about the timeline, I knew why Jamie wanted to leave Ohio so soon and it’s clear Cathy has her suspicions when she talks about how Jamie likes to play with his little girlfriends. Although the camera angles here were weird (Shaky cam? Really?) and Cathy didn’t sink down crying like I always imagined, I want to give props to Anna Kendrick for mastering the conversational singing that this song calls for. Did I mention how I love how the drums come in when things get confrontational, almost like a battle? It’s little things like that that make musicals amazing for me.

“Moving Too Fast” shows us the first bits of dialogue from the musical. I only saw glimpses of how the dialogue worked in-show from YouTube videos. The dialogue scenes are there to fill in the gaps and establish stuff. In the case of this scene, it’s to show how quickly Jamie jumps into things without thinking twice. As soon as he gets the call that his manuscript is accepted by an agent and is being read by a well known publishing house, Jamie calls up Cathy and says “Hey, let’s move in together.” Keep in mind, they’ve probably been together for maybe a year, maybe 2 at most. The title of this song is a gross understatement as to how fast the relationship is progressing. Jamie is not even 24 yet and he thinks he’s got it made. As someone in her early 20s, I can relate to wanting so much so soon. The difference is that for me, a little patience goes a long way. The scene ends with Jaime chatting this up with his publisher, Alise. More on her later.

The next scene starts out at a party promoting Jamie’s book which has been spending 66 weeks on the bestseller list. Cathy is making small talk at various parties. Whenever I listened to this song, I always imagined it being more domestic, like Cathy’s singing to herself while Jamie is writing. There are domestic parts in this scene, though, like Cathy taking a picture of Jamie smiling. But product placement aside, it would’ve been funny to see Jamie snacking on Doritos. As a chronic snacker, I can totally relate.  It’s interesting how Jamie and Cathy are always kept apart in this scene, with Cathy playing the role of the dutiful wife while Jamie schmoozes, wines, and dines. Even towards the end, when they are sitting together, they’re not even really looking at each other. I also like how, at the end, it shows Cathy reading Jamie’s manuscript and then looking at the dedication, as if to affirm to herself that she is, indeed, part of his life.

One thing I noticed on repeat viewings is that “The Schmuel Song” is the only song in the movie other than “Next Ten Minutes” that shows the most interaction between Jamie and Cathy. “Shiksa Goddess” was more of Jamie talking to Cathy and “See I’m Smiling” keeps the two of them apart emotionally and physically, more combative than cooperative. This scene is a stark contrast to the previous numbers, showing their first Christmas together. Cathy arrives home after a long, frustrating day waiting tables at a bar and jokes about how her agent is probably making a blood sacrifice at his agent retreat. Jamie cheers Cathy up by telling her a story.

“If I had known there would be this many stories, I never would’ve dated a writer,” Cathy said. (Word of warning btw to all guys who want to date me: this applies.)

But Jamie insists and it’s clear that Cathy is entertained in spite of her crappy mood. Jeremy Jordan’s accents and voices in the story are hilarious and entertaining. Cathy is shocked to find out that she is Schmuel in the story and not the girl from Odessa. (And I’d honestly be offended to. Really, Jamie? Casting your girlfriend as an old man?) But Jamie’s support of Cathy and Cathy’s laughter as they dance around their apartment is equally heartwarming and heartbreaking. We also see where the watch Cathy took off at the beginning came from: it was Jamie’s Christmas present to her, a symbol of the time that he wants to give her.

I was highly disappointed to see that the guitar player in “A Summer in Ohio” was not Cathy but someone from the acting company. Rehearsals from Cathy’s show are interspersed with her video calling Jamie and I can’t help but sing and dance along. Again, they could’ve played this scene for a lot more comedy than it actually showed. But there are bits and pieces I loved, especially the shoutouts to “Sound of Music” when Cathy sings about Richard. But it would’ve been so cool to have seen Cathy actually buying Jamie’s book in that Target in Kentucky. Oh well. It’s a lovely rendition of my go-to song on the soundtrack. Just saying it could’ve been played for more laughs. BTW: Hi, Betsy Wolfe cameo!

As I stated before, if I was the one who edited the trailer, I would’ve just shown “The Next Ten Minutes” and snippets from the movie. And when I saw the scene, I was basically glued to the screen. It starts with a closeup of Jamie and Cathy taking a walk in the park, holding hands. The shot is focused on their hands up until the conversation ends. It plays almost like a memory, not really recalling what the other said. Even though Cathy and Jamie have no dialogue with each other, the chemistry between Kendrick and Jordan is best shown here. What’s interesting, though, is that they only show a glimpse of the wedding and then track out to a view of New York City again. Instead of showing Jamie and Cathy dancing together to that all-too-familiar waltz, the scene turns back the clock to Cathy’s POV, showing that from here on out, the timelines are once again apart. You’ll see how much hope Cathy had at the beginning and how heartbreaking things go when the relationship finally ends.

The transition from the beauty of “The Next Ten Minutes” to “A Miracle Would Happen” is jarring, almost implying that Jamie deals with the temptation of adultery almost as soon as the honeymoon is over. Jamie is out with his friends, talking and having drinks amongst crowds of beautiful women. I was kind of sad at how the woman Jamie calls “a pair of breasts” is barely seen. And yes, Jamie is seeing hot chicks everywhere, but he’s kind of at fault for putting himself in the near occasion of sin, not only by going to these parties but being seen in a strip joint. The tale of the fool seduced by an adulterous woman in Proverbs 7 comes to mind here. And my fears of Jamie finally giving into that temptation are realized when he takes a good look at his publisher, Alise, getting ready for a party. Cathy is seen in this scene doing a successful audition. BTW: Hi Sheri Rene Scott cameo! After the audition ends, Cathy says it’s for something off-Broadway, but later it’s shown that it just sent her back to Ohio.

“Climbing Uphill” shows Cathy in the midst of a bad audition. BTW: Hi, Jason Robert Brown cameo! We see a long line of girls in red dresses and Cathy is just another one of them. This scene could’ve been played for so much more comedy (listen to how Betsey Wolfe sings it for comparison), but for what I got, it was a very funny scene. Show of hands: How many of us ever had those times when we were making a presentation and we were thinking about everything but the presentation? Yeah, that’s happened to me. The scene shifts to Jamie giving a presentation of his novel, reading a passage from it. All the while, Cathy is uber-frustrated that she seems stuck in a rut while Jamie is successful in his career. The anger is hiding under the surface…

…And then it boils over when the scene transitions to a fight between Jamie and Cathy. You know that whole fight they had in “See I’m Smiling” about Jamie always going to parties? It’s not the first time they had this fight. This scene is painful to watch. Like Buffy Season 6 painful. Eleventh Doctor rengeration painful. Train going off the rails painful. But the acting in this scene is awesome to watch. Where Anna Kendrick nailed the conversational singing in “See I’m Smiling,” Jeremy Jordan nails it in “If I Didn’t Believe in You.” This is one of those times where you read between the lines. Yes, Jamie is frustrated at Cathy, but it’s also clear that he’s starting to lose faith in her. Both of them are in the wrong in this fight. I also notice little things from the Schmuel Song scene that show up as props, realizing that those happy memories are far behind the once-happy couple. When Cathy walks out and Jamie yells at her as she slams the door, I basically end up turning into a crumple on the couch.

Don’t get me wrong when I say that I love “I Can Do Better Than That.” But this lovely, gorgeous song, is just so heartbreaking because it’s sandwiched between the painful song that came before it and the very despairing song that follows afterwards. I kind of wanted to see a flashback to Cathy’s days as a Jersey Girl, seeing Carol Ann and Mitchell as they go from shotgun wedding to settled down. Instead, I see the guy with the well-placed tattoos and Cathy sleeping with him. Also, a Post-it note hardly counts as a “heartfelt letter.” Jamie and Cathy are driving back to New Jersey to meet Cathy’s parents and then they’re seen driving back to New York in the end of the scene.

Remember all the stuff I said a couple paragraph’s ago about how painful it was to watch Cathy and Jamie have a fight? Yeah. This scene hurts too. Instead of Jamie having one affair, he has a string of them. The misery that Jamie feels during these affairs is written all over Jeremy Jordan’s face. Alise, who we saw glimpses of in previous scenes, becomes another notch on his bedpost at the end of the scene, but she seems to have some sticking power, since Jaime decides that if he has to be in love with someone, maybe she could be that someone. Instead of fighting to stay together, Jamie looks for a way out.

We are now taken back to the beginning, in the morning after the “Shiksa Goddess” scene. That piano intro btw? I’ll never get over it. I am in love with the melody of this song like a long-time love affair. Anyway, we see Jamie leaving Cathy’s apartment, the morning-after bliss as clear on their faces. Although why the scene was shot in the daytime when Cathy sings “leave this night clean and quiet,” I will never know. Again, why couldn’t this have been a nice first date scene? Cathy starts the second verse walking towards the apartment that she will eventually live in. In my mind, it shows Cathy sort of wandering around the city, just taking everything in about how wonderful her relationship is.

But then we pan over to Jamie who is writing his goodbye letter to Cathy. And the Cathy from the past transitions from being a real person to a memory. To say that this scene is heartwrenching is an understatement. He starts singing to Cathy as he walks out the door, but the Cathy he sings to is just a memory. The regret and hurt is all in Jamie’s eyes, but he feels almost as if he has to. The movie ends with the scene transitioning into a gray afternoon, possibly a night shot, with Cathy walking into the apartment, ending basically where the movie began.

Now for my overall critique. I definitely love this movie, but I also know that it’s not for everyone. Some of the camera angles were weird and some of the choices the director made felt off compared to what I saw in my head. This play is a hard one to adapt to film, but overall, I think they did a good job. One opportunity that the director missed out on is showing how Cathy was just as much in the wrong in the relationship as Jamie was. It’s hard to tell from the album, but Cathy has major self-esteem issues. On the one hand, she wants to be defined as her own person. On the other hand, she’s emotionally dependent on Jamie for validation. There are hints seen throughout the movie of this clinginess, but it’s not exactly obvious.

Still, if you’re a fan of the musical like I am, I suggest you definitely give it a watch.

 

 

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