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.

 

 

The Last Five Years Soundtrack

SPOILER WARNING.

It’s one of those days where I wish I had iTunes. The Last Five Years is sadly not showing in my area and while the movie is available online, it’s only available on iTunes. Yes, I am Team Android but sometimes, that has its drawbacks. Don’t worry, readers, I’m planning to review the movie as soon as it comes out on DVD. Dear Leah Libresco, please review the movie for me!

Anyway, I never saw the original play when it was off-Broadway or any stage production. Instead, I got introduced to the play through my friends in theater back in high school. One of my classmates performed “Climbing Uphill” for a “Best of Broadway” show and it became the song I sang in my head before every job interview. I listened to the soundtrack of both the original off-Broadway production and the 2013 revival.

So what exactly is The Last Five Years about, you ask?

It’s a love story, but not the kind you’d usually expect from a musical. It’s about a writer named Jamie and an actress named Cathy who both look back on their marriage as it falls apart. Cathy starts at the end of the marriage and flashes backwards to the beginning of the relationship while Jamie starts at the beginning of the relationship. In the musical, the two of them are kept apart from each other until the middle of the play, when they sing about their marriage, and then are kept apart again until the very end of the play. I know. Wibbley-wobbley, timey-wimey. It’s a play. Just go with it.

If you don’t have iTunes and if the movie is not showing in your area, I highly recommend getting the soundtrack because it pretty much tells you the whole story of Cathy and Jamie and how they fell apart.

With that, on to the review!

1) “Still Hurting.” The soundtrack starts out with the biggest spoiler of the show: Cathy and Jamie’s marriage has fallen apart. Cathy is sitting there, assessing the damage, picking up the pieces, wondering what went wrong. Anna Kendrick sings out her lament. It’s not so much a breakup anthem as it is a post-breakup cry-your-heart-out kind of song.

2) “Shiksa Goddess.” This track goes all the way back to when Jamie first meets Cathy and takes her out on a date. Jamie is established as having an awkward sense of humor. He’s also Jewish and is sick of dating every girl he probably grew up with. But when it comes to falling in love, everything is all of a sudden new again and every other girl seems the same and “maybe this time it’ll be different.” I think we’ve all been there before. Jeremy Jordan is hilarious in this particular performance.

3) “See I’m Smiling” This track starts out with an interlude not heard on the soundtracks of the original stage productions, but the familiar intro comes around. The song plays out with Cathy sounding like she’s putting on a facade. She’s trying to work things out with Jamie even though she’s living in Ohio as part of her acting career and Jamie’s still living in New York. The facade starts crumbling slowly and then all at once at the bridge. Anna Kendrick really sings out the anger and the sadness, sounding like she’s physically pushing Jamie away.

4) “Moving Too Fast.” I never usually want to this song, but the beat and the piano are way to compelling to not dance along to, at least a little. But this song also gives a lot of insight into Jamie’s thought process. He is always living in the moment, never thinking ahead. I think the most telling line of the song is “Some people can’t find success in their art. Some people never feel love in their heart. Some people can’t tell the two things apart, but I keep rolling on.” Think of that what you will.

5) “I’m a Part of That.” We find Cathy and Jamie in a typical day. But as I said before, there’s an element of a facade here. Cathy has this insecurity that she’ll never catch up or be as good as Jamie in her career. She’s putting a lot of her self-worth, if not all of it into her marriage and uses Jamie as a measurement of that self-worth. I cannot begin to emphasize how wrong this perception is, but most people in relationships have probably have that perception before.

6) “The Schmuel Song.” What the movie leaves out is that Jamie is telling Cathy a story for Christmas. It’s Jamie and Cathy’s first Christmas together. Jeremy Jordan’s different voices are hilarious and you easily get caught up in Jamie’s strange and wonderful story. You get a glimpse of Jamie’s talent as a writer here. It’s a very heartwarming song and you can tell that at some point, Jamie’s love for Cathy was genuine. It makes the fallout all the more heartbreaking.

7) “A Summer In Ohio.” I can picture Anna Kendrick playing this song on a ukulele. This song has Cathy performing summer stock in Ohio and having a hell of a time. And by that, I mean that Ohio has become a personal circle of Hell. It’s a hilarious song, but why didn’t Anna Kendrick fake a British accent in the like “I could be in line to be the British Queen” like her predecessors?!  Little known fact, btw. Originally there was a line that went “I saw your book at a Borders in Kentucky.” Since Borders has shut down, the store in question has changed to Target, which usually stocks bestselling books.

8) “The Next Ten Minutes.” If I had it my way, this would’ve been the only song shown in the trailer. If I ever talk about the musical, I always want to show the person this song first. Because then the question arises: “How could something so beautiful shown in this song fall apart?” Pay attention, by the way, to the leitmotifs used in this song, particularly in the end. The love Cathy and Jamie have for each other is so beautiful and Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan’s particular performances will definitely leave you crying.

9) “A Miracle Would Happen.” It’s almost a cliche that all the good men are taken. Jamie is facing the effects of being a best selling novelist, which includes hordes of fangirls seemingly throwing himself at his feet. Meanwhile, Cathy has an audition that goes really well. And Jamie struggles with the temptation of his wandering eye, but the song implies that he is very close to giving in.

10) “Climbing Uphill.” This song introduced me to the musical and has a bit of a different arrangement from the original stage productions. Also, Cathy addressed this song to Jaime instead of her father. One other change is that originally there was a line that went “These are the people who cast Linda Blair in a musical.” The line is changed to “Russell Crowe.” As someone who loved both Gladiator and Les Miserables, I will say that Russell Crowe is a wonderful actor, but a horrible singer. But I digress. Cathy’s inner monologue is heard instead of her audition song and we learn that unlike Jamie, Cathy does not live in the moment. She is always thinking ahead and oftentimes, that proves to be detrimental. She also has major self-confidence issues. I wish Anna Kendrick could’ve played up more of the comedy in this song, but it’s overall a good performance.

11) “If I Didn’t Believe in You.” Jamie is the one wearing the facade in this song. You catch Jamie and Cathy in another argument. Jeremy Jordan sings out the anger in this song, but there’s a problem with the song itself. It’s the fact that in spite of Jamie wanting to encourage Cathy in this song, it’s also clear that he’s starting to lose faith in her. If you notice, the leitmotifs from “Still Hurting” show up here as well. This is when the marriage falls apart, in my honest opinion. Or at least when it starts falling apart.

12) “I Could Do Better Than That.” This is the song I’ve listened to the most. A scene with this song was shown as a teaser before the trailer came out. It shows Cathy and Jamie out on the road, heading to wherever Cathy came from. Cathy talks to Jamie about what she wanted out of life. A line from the original stage production that got changed is “Met a guy I was taking who you might say looked like Tom Cruise.” Since Tom Cruise kind of lost his sanity and sex appeal after jumping on Oprah’s couch, the line has been changed to “with some very well-placed tattoos.” It captures how you feel when you’re in the middle of a relationship; that desire to give all of yourself to your significant other. If you notice, Cathy says the same lines of “You and nothing but you, miles and piles of you” that she said in “See I’m Smiling” but the words have an entirely different context.

13) “Nobody Needs to Know.” Prepare for some mood whiplash here, dear readers. This is when Jamie and Cathy’s marriage officially falls apart with Jamie committing adultery. If I was going to be honest, Jeremy Jordan sounds more like he’s using this affair as his way out. He has to convince himself that he’s really in love with his mistress and it comes off feeling like a facade. His marriage with Cathy seems unsalvagable, yes, but it sounds more like he’s searching for solace with someone, anyone, than finding new love with someone.

14) “Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You.” Can you fall in love with piano intros? Because I am honestly, legitimately in love with how this song starts. Piano players, please tell me what key this song starts with because this is one song I wish I could play myself. This finds Cathy after her first date with all of the euphoria one might expect. This joy, this happiness is all the more heartbreaking when the song turns to Jamie writing a “Dear John” letter to Cathy. That’s right. He’s blowing her off with a heartfelt letter. The two goodbyes are intertwined along with the leitmotif from the intro. And yes, this leitmotif was used in “The Next Ten Minutes.”

Overall, this soundtrack is a wonderful piece of work. I have definitely fallen in love with it just as much as I loved the original stage productions. It’s available on Amazon and iTunes. Give it a listen.

Into the Woods: Things I Know Now

Yesterday, I went with my family to see Into the Woods. I’m a big fan of musicals in general and I was really looking forward to it.

What makes Into the Woods unique is that it starts out with the fairy tales that everyone knows and then turns them all on their heads. The film follows the spirit of the original musical, if not the letter of it.  Spoilers will probably ensue, so proceed with caution.

With that, I’ll talk about the characters. The one who stood out most to me was Anna Kendrick as Cinderella. I found myself relating to her character most of all. Her storyline follows the original Cinderella tale instead of the more well-known Disney version, which includes her stepsisters cutting off their toes and heels to try and fit into the slipper and getting blinded. However, the first half of the movie shows a major flaw with Cinderella: she’s indecisive about what she wants. When she finally gets her dream of dancing with the prince, she runs off three times. I understand why she ran the first time. She was overwhelmed by the new experience. But when she was contemplating what to do when she ran away the third time, I wondered what the heck she was thinking even as she was singing it. Sorry to say, girlie, but choosing not to decide is still a decision, and not a very wise one at that. There was no indication of any sort of “turn into a pumpkin by midnight” clause, since she’s seen putting away the dress she wore.

Later on, though, Cinderella finally learns what she wants…or at least finds a happy medium between the two extremes she experienced. Yes, she was trapped as a servant to her stepmother and stepsisters, but she became a princess, she was still trapped. She couldn’t go anywhere without a royal escort. She learned how to hold her own and take care of those in need and learned that not everything was completely black and white.

James Corden was the perfect choice to be the baker. I kept calling him Craig in my head because I knew him from Doctor Who. He had such great chemistry with Emily Blunt that it was hard for me to believe that the Baker’s Wife would cheat on her husband the way she did, let alone try to justify it to herself. However, I put the blame squarely on the prince’s shoulders. After all, he was raised to be charming. And the Baker’s Wife showed hints of wanting to know what being with royalty was like. But to me, it seemed more like she was in love with an idea rather than the reality.

Meryl Streep obviously had a lot of fun being the Witch. I loved her more when she was the scraggly old witch, though, than her more beautiful form. The witch’s motivations are understandable, but unlike what she claimed, saving Jack wouldn’t be the “good” thing to do. Her treatment of Rapunzel was deplorable, wanting her daughter to stay young forever, but the reality of the situation was that Rapunzel was all grown up and needed her questions answered. She was right in the fact that everyone had to stop blaming each other in order, though.

Jack and Red Riding Hood were also great, but Red’s storyline was kind of short compared to everyone else. After the wolf was slain, most of Red Riding Hood’s story arc involved her either motivating other characters or being supported by other characters. Johnny Depp as the wolf was as creepy as was expected. And hey, at least he wasn’t a pirate this time!

My least favorite characters were the princes, although that’s also to be expected. While “Agony” was hilarious, Chris Pine’s Prince Charming was a real sleazeball. Of course, given that Chris Pine’s other most famous character is known for spending time with female characters of every species, the casting was perfect on that end. I also didn’t like Billy Magnussen’s costume. It didn’t look like a prince’s outfit so much as an 80s glam rock outfit. But at least he and Rapunzel got their happily ever after.

The only thing I’d really change about the musical was the way it ended. It doesn’t have to be a total “happily ever after,” but I do want to see the Baker, Cinderella, Jack, and Red Riding Hood living new lives out of the woods. But then again, Sondheim tends to go against expectations.

I definitely recommend this movie to fans of musicals, but I will warn parents that this is not a kid-friendly movie in spite of what the PG rating may say. I would say it’s more for ages 10 and up because of the language, Johnny Depp’s very villainous song, and the implications shown in the second half of the musical.

Isn’t it nice to know a lot? And a little bit…not.