Love From A To Z — And Back Again — In 'The Last Five Years' The Last Five Years is a musical romance with a unique storytelling twist. NPR film critic Bob Mondello says the quirks and tricks have him singing the movie's praises, despite a flaw or two.
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Love From A To Z — And Back Again — In 'The Last Five Years'

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Love From A To Z — And Back Again — In 'The Last Five Years'

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Movie Reviews

Love From A To Z — And Back Again — In 'The Last Five Years'

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Movie musicals used to be box office poison. But lately they have found ways to attract a wider crowd. The on-screen version of "Le Mis" did away with lip-synching. "Annie" went multicultural. "Into The Woods" belted out revisionist fairytales. Together, those three movies have taken in almost three-quarters of a billion dollars. Now, yes, in time for Valentine's Day, a musical romance with another twisty, tricky gimmick. It's called "The Last Five Years," and you're about to hear our critic Bob Mondello sing its praises.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Kathy and Jamie are a supremely cute New York couple. He's a writer. She's an actress. They fall in love, they marry, they fall apart, all in five years. Now I know that sounds like a spoiler, but it's not.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST FIVE YEARS")

ANNA KENDRICK: (As Cathy Hiatt, singing) Jamie is over and Jamie is gone.

MONDELLO: Because this is how Cathy starts "The Last Five Years."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST FIVE YEARS")

KENDRICK: (As Cathy Hiatt, singing) Jamie's decided it's time to move on.

MONDELLO: At the very beginning, she's singing about their breakup.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST FIVE YEARS")

KENDRICK: (As Cathy Hiatt, singing) Jamie has new dreams he's building upon. And I'm still hurting.

MONDELLO: Then the movie flashes back to the beginning, the two of them just falling in love, tearing their clothes off, leaping into bed as Jamie sings about breaking his Jewish mother's heart.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST FIVE YEARS")

JEREMY JORDAN: (As Jamie Wellerstein, singing) If you had a tattoo, that wouldn't matter. If you had a shaved head, that would be cool. If you came from Spain or Japan or the back of a van, just as long as you're not from Hebrew school.

MONDELLO: Young love, right? Back at beginning so the plot can go forward. Except that "The Last Five Years" has an ingenious trick up its sleeve. While his songs tell the story starting at the start, his songs are alternating with her songs, which tell the story in reverse. He goes start to finish. She goes finish to start. And their only duet is right in the middle, on the day she accepts his proposal.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST FIVE YEARS")

JORDAN: (As Jamie Wellerstein, singing) Share your life with me.

KENDRICK: (As Cathy Hiatt, singing) Forever.

JORDAN: (As Jamie Wellersetin, singing) Her for the next 10 lifetimes.

KENDRICK: (As Cathy Hiatt, singing) Forever, Jamie.

JORDAN: (As Jamie Wellerstein, singing) For a million summers.

JORDAN AND KENDRICK: (As Jamie Wellerstein and Cathy Hiatt, singing) Until the world explodes.

MONDELLO: Now this back-and-forth is a very tricky concept. And because it's cleverly executed in composer Jason Robert Brown's songs, it ends up revealing quite a lot. Not just about their relationship, but relationships in general. You feel the ache of endings and the joy of beginnings and know which forks in the road will lead straight off cliffs, which is not to suggest there aren't surprises along the way. Cathy's resilience is impressive, for instance, when her dreams of musical comedy stardom on Broadway lead only to summer stock.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST FIVE YEARS")

KENDRICK: (As Cathy Hiatt, singing) I could have a mansion on a hill. I could lease a villa in Seville, but it wouldn't be as nice as the summer in Ohio with a gay midget named Carl playing Tevye and Porgy.

MONDELLO: Anna Kendrick's Cathy is the movie's secret weapon - actually, not-so-secret now that's she's charmed audiences in both "Into The Woods" and "Pitch Perfect." She's so appealing here, in fact, that audience sympathies are likely to be less-than-evenly split between the two leads. Jeremy Jordan's Jamie is energetic.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST FIVE YEARS")

JORDAN: (As Jamie Wellerstein, singing) No matter what I try, I'm flying full-speed ahead.

MONDELLO: But in terms of appeal, he's sort of Omar Sharif to her Streisand. Director Richard LaGravenese tries to balance that where he can by making Jamie one of the world's most physically active writers, constantly on the move, in cars, at parties on the Staten Island Ferry. And in the process, the director does a nice job of opening up a show that on stage is generally done with just two performers and very little else. The movie sketches in a whole world around Cathy and Jamie, though the story still comes down to just them and their haunting, bittersweet recounting of the last five years. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST FIVE YEARS")

JORDAN: (As Jamie Wellerstein, singing) I do.

KENDRICK: (As Cathy Hiatt, singing) I do.

JORDAN: (As Jamie Wellerstein, singing) I do.

KENDRICK: (As Cathy Hiatt, singing) I do.

JORDAN AND KENDRICK: (As Jamie Wellerstein and Cathy Hiatt, singing) I do.

MARTIN: Oh, you can feel the romance in the air. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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