I am incredibly fond of musicals, even more so when they do not feel cheesy or contrived. That is why I am newly obsessed with “The Last Five Years,” a film directed by Richard Lagravenese, based off Robert Jason Brown’s musical of the same name. I became embarrassingly attached to the stunning musical score, the flawed characters and the artful way their story was delivered.
“The Last Five Years” chronicles the relationship between struggling actress Cathy Hiatt and successful writer Jamie Wellerstein. We get to see the fun early stages of their relationship, the rocky middle parts and the ultimate crumbling of their marriage. The premise sounds boring, like something that has been done several times, and it would most likely feel that way too if Brown and Lagravenese had not found a way to make it feel fresh.
What makes this film so poignant is that Cathy and Jamie’s story is not presented linearly. Rather, the film zig-zags between the two characters, taking turns singing, giving both of them the chance to share their sides of the story. Cathy’s side starts at the end of the relationship and moves toward the beginning, while Jamie’s side starts at the beginning and moves toward the end. There is minimal dialogue and the two almost never sing a song together. This approach not only forces the audience to piece some things together on their own, but it also gives the entire movie a bittersweet tint, as we know from the opening scene that their relation- ship does not end well.
This film is intimate and emotional and it is pure art. The musical numbers range from upbeat and comical to romantic to heartbreaking. Each song has beautiful, relatable and engrossing lyrics. What really made this film resonate with me, though, is the ambiguous characterization. I have spent a lot of time contemplating whose side I should take in this film, and I still cannot decide. That is what makes this musical so incredible. Both of the main characters make countless mistakes and contribute to the relationship’s failure—and yet, I understand what led the characters to their decisions.
At its core, “The Last Five Years” is a film that shows how a simple story can be so complex. It shows a harsh reality of life and love. It is a film that swept me off my feet.