I know – I shouldn’t be so highfalutin because they are totally different organisms – but I’m always a little weary about film versions of beloved musicals not living up to expectations (see Les Miz, Hairspray, The Wiz, the Beyonce-ruined Dreamgirls, and so on). So I’m naturally skeptical about the upcoming The Last Five Years, the film adaptation of the 2002 cult classic about the genesis and disintegration of a marriage. With Book and Score by Jason Robert Brown, the original Off-Broadway production was a show-stopping vehicle for relative newcomers Sherie Renee Scott and Norbert Leo Butz. The film version, currently in post-production, stars the wonderful Oscar-nominee Anna Kendrick and Broadway’s talented Tony-nominated Jeremy Jordan.
And therein lies a quandary. The role of Cathy calls for power, nuance and emotion – all of which Kendrick has displayed in her acting. While she was fine in her minimal singing roles on film (Camp, Pitch Perfect, which has garnered Kendrick an unlikely Top 40 single, Cups (When I’m Gone) I don’t know if she has the lung power – or vocal dexterity – to pull off the necessary transitions the score calls for. It’s not Sondheim, I know, but it sure ain’t the frivolous pop of Pitch Perfect either. Jordan possesses a muscular, powerful range and his persona works on stage, but so far on screen – whether as the angry young man on TVs misbegotten Smash or as Dolly Parton’s allegedly charming nephew in the cringe-fest Joyful Noise – he’s always less-than likeable (blame his roles) and never charming (blame his scripts). But, man, what a voice.
Also, the stage version had a clever, albeit tricky, chronology – the couple’s story was told in reverse of each other. Cathy’s role begins at the end of their marriage, while Jamie’s starts right as the couple’s romance blossoms. There’s rarely an interface between either character (except when their timelines meet, in the middle).
How will they handle this aspect in a big movie? Altering the whole idea of the reverse narrative would be a grave mistake and I can’t imagine how screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (Water For Elephants, P.S. I Love You, The Mirror Has Two Faces, The Bridges Of Madison County, and the recent HBO Liberace biography, Behind The Candelabra) will adapt that structure to film (LaGravanese is also directing).
As much as I adored the show, the material was stronger as a concept album – its edifice often confused on stage. If LaGravenese remains faithful to the source, the result could be a befuddling clusterfuck on screen. Yet, if he synchronizes the plot line in a more mainstream, diluted approach, how unique would the film be from the thousand other NY-boy-meets-marries-divorces-girl love story we’ve slogged through ad nauseum?
That onus is on LaGravanese. And knowing the scary, passionate obsession of this show’s fan base, one I don’t envy. (But I’m sure looking forward to the result.)