My Last Ten Years with The Last Five Years

I love musicals. You might not; a lot of people really, really don’t. They say musicals are too earnest. That’s fair. To sing one’s feelings in narrative form is the definition of earnestness: “showing depth and sincerity of feeling.” But what are feelings if not deeply and sincerely felt? And what is music if not one of the most universal forms of expressing feelings?

As you read this now, you probably already have a pretty firm idea about whether a movie adaptation of a musical is a thing you would watch. If your experience of musicals has been shaped by, say, songs about surreys with fringe on top sung by slightly off-key high schoolers in turn-of-the-century cowboy costumes, I know I have little hope of changing your mind. But there’s this show that I love, more than any other show, and I think more people would love it like I do if they would just give it a chance.

I first heard The Last Five Years in college, sitting in a pew in Pierce Chapel watching the Broadway revue my friend Adam was directing. His show actually featured three songs from Jason Robert Brown’s 2001 off-Broadway show, but it was “The Schmuel Song” that I couldn’t stop thinking about that night. It’s a weird little song, in which a man tells an (off-stage) woman a story about an old Jewish tailor whose clock starts talking to him and helps him literally turn back time and change his fate. It’s a metaphor, of course, for what he wishes he could tell her, and what he wishes she could hear. I raced back to my dorm room to listen to it again, and again, and dozens more times over the next few days and weeks. Before long I moved on to the rest of the show, and as I have listened to it so many times over the years I have come to realize that between its 14 songs, this show contains basically every feeling one can feel in a relationship. “Still Hurting” got me through a few heartbreaks, and “If I Didn’t Believe in You” has helped me to hope. Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly excited about possibilities I burst out into “Goodbye Until Tomorrow” (only when I’m alone, of course, I’m not that kind of weird) and “I’m a Part of That” helped me to understand the intrigue of artists and musicians.

The film adaptation of The Last Five Years, starring Anna Kendrick and Broadway star Jeremy Jordan, debuted at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this week, and was already picked up and scheduled for a Valentine’s Day 2015 release. The musical tells the story of a five-year relationship between a young novelist on the cusp of success and a theater actress struggling to get work in forward and reverse: while the man lives the relationship from its beginning to its end, the woman lives it from its end to its beginning. You know from the beginning where it’s headed: the show begins with her reeling from their breakup. What’s important is how they get there. The two alternate songs, meeting only in the middle, at their engagement (“The Next Ten Minutes”). The fun of the show is piecing together what happened, and why, and when, exactly, their relationship broke beyond repair. Yesterday the first clip was released, of Kendrick singing “I Can Do Better Than That” (shortly after the pair starts dating):

Here’s a video of Jeremy Jordan, who plays the male lead in the film, performing “Moving Too Fast,” one of the songs he’ll sing (also from the beginning of the relationship–singing begins at 2:45):

Yes, they sing their feelings. A lot. But a good musical–and The Last Five Years is a very good musical–makes you feel like that’s the only thing in the world that makes sense.

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