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Opinion: ‘The Last 5 Years’ echoes the trials of real-life romance

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Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick attending the Los Angeles Premiere of 'The Last Five Years' held at the Arclight Theater. Credit: Courtesy of TNS.

Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick attending the Los Angeles Premiere of ‘The Last Five Years’ held at the Arclight Theater.
Credit: Courtesy of TNS.

Relationships are hard. Can we all agree on that? When two different people try and do life together, there are undeniably going to be sacrifices and compromises.

For the lucky ones, the positives outweigh the negatives, and that’s enough to keep them together. For the couple in the film “The Last Five Years,” however, the opposite scenario occurs.

Through a compelling he-said, she-said narrative set in New York City, “The Last Five Years” is a film adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s musical production by the same name. The plot unfolds by struggling actress Cathy Hiatt (Anna Kendrick) and up-and-coming author Jamie Wellerstein (Jeremy Jordan) recounting the moments throughout the last five years of their romantic relationship that led up to their separation.

Despite the opening scene revealing to the audience that Cathy and Jamie break up (spoiler alert), I found myself rooting for the couple throughout the movie anyway. I still laughed at Jamie’s theatrical attempt to cheer up Cathy after a rough day with a goofy song about a man named Schmuel and a magical clock. I still felt my heart flutter during the couple’s intimate moments and then deflate during their screaming matches. Even though I knew the ending of the story didn’t have them together, and even though Jeremy Jordan’s real-life wife Ashley Spencer appeared in the film, the chemistry between Kendrick and Jordan had me hoping for more between their characters.

On that note, let’s take a moment to applaud Kendrick on her all-too-accurate portrayal of a woman who feels underappreciated in the shadow of her husband’s success. Subtle nuances like the wincing of her face when she watched raving critics engulf Jamie with questions, or the deliberate flatness in her tone of voice when singing about rejection convinced me to feel that pain.

Jeremy Jordan, best known for playing the lead of Jack Kelly in the Broadway production of “Newsies,” also receives a standing ovation for the conviction in his powerhouse vocals. He embodies the definition of a “heartthrob” both on-screen and off with his comic book good looks and sparkling eyes. And yes, this was an excuse for me to be the sole individual over the age of 14 still using the word “heartthrob.”

I digress.

All in all, I don’t intend to critique why Cathy and Jamie’s relationship didn’t work out, although there were a number of factors that could have played a role: a lack of communication, feelings of insecurity, obvious resentment, differences in career paths and the disheartening acts of lying and cheating. Rather, I feel like I learned a lot about what it means to bring closure to a relationship, and the emotional journey one takes to get there.

When Jamie starts from the beginning of their relationship and follows it to its sour ending, it makes it hard to focus on anything but the demise. But when Cathy worked backwards from the faults and end with a focus on the good times, she was left in a state of ignorance to the burdens of the relationship. With the overlap of these two perspectives, however, it makes it possible to reflect on all parts of the relationship. It’s good to feel happy remembering those giddy beginnings, but also beneficial to be reminded of why things didn’t work out.

We’ll never know how the producers would have depicted Cathy and Jamie’s offspring to look like had the couple continued their relationship on the big screen, and had Kendrick and Jordan continued to play their roles. Although with that gorgeous gene pool, I’m guessing those kids would have been flawless. We’ll never know if Cathy gives up on her acting dream, or what the shelf life would be for Jamie’s next best-sellers. But that’s why I find the film especially to be so genuine, so similar to our reality.

Watching this movie is like reading a novel. Sometimes, we read in such a way that we glaze over details. Like Cathy, we have to turn the pages backward to recount what had happened to get us to the chapter that we’re currently on. Once we obtain that reminder, we flip to our stopping place and, like Jamie, continue to move forward.

It’s a combination of these two actions, looking backward and going forward, that allows us to make sense of where we are in life or in a relationship. Those flaws, mistakes and joyous moments are integral to creating the full story, whether it is a tale that concludes with “happily ever after,“ or simply just “the end.”

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