Rating: Very Severe
Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes
Director: Richard Lagravenese
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan
Spoiler alert in effect.
I was a bit skeptical about this film to begin with. I knew it was a musical and that was about it. However, it turned out to be a good surprise in the end. I think this is the sort of movie where it grows on you. At first you think, eh, its alright, but perhaps a little less orthodox than other standard musicals (e.g. the Shmuel song). But watching over some scenes again (I’ve watched this movie at least 3 times) and trying to understand the perspectives of each character really made it more interesting. I realised how well written it is (both the songs and the overall story) and how emotional it is. They really give each character a chance to present their side of the story and its up to the audience to decide who they believe is at fault of their relationship failing, or if they both are.
The first time I watched it, I didn’t quite get why the scenes were moving backwards and forwards, why one moment Cathy and Jamie were fighting, and the next they were madly in love. It wasn’t until I actually read up on the film that I realised that Cathy’s story was told in reverse and Jamie’s was the other way around, with them meeting in the middle when Jamie proposes. I thought this was a really clever idea. Because the ending scene loops into the first, this cyclicality felt like a relationship ending, but also the beginning of new one, depending on who’s perspective you take. And it makes you want to watch it again to fully understand their complex relationship. Using this device, you can’t really tell at which point the relationship breaks down, and who caused it, which is actually true with most relationships. It never occurs at just one moment, and often both are to blame. You can’t look back at the relationship and realise that one particular event or word caused it to break down. It’s all mixed and confused and indistinguishable. I think that’s what’s really clever about this film. In particular, the last number is really captivating. They both say goodbye to each other, but it means different things. Jamie is saying goodbye to their relationship, while Cathy is saying goodbye for now and waiting for him to come back. This is a truly heartbreaking and tear-jerking way to end the whole thing. You are reminded of the real love they felt for each other, the hopes and promises, the dreams they had, through Cathy’s song. And this is cruelly juxtaposed with Jamie’s farewell song. Knowing the fate that awaits for Cathy is heartbreaking and leaves me teary every time.
In terms of the actual songs, I originally wasn’t that thrilled by it, but listening again, I think each song is great on it’s own. It can’t really be compared to the likes of Les Miserables in terms of theatricality, but in its own right, its very well done. Some of my personal favourites are those sung by the wonderfully talented Anna Kendrick, and include “Still Hurting”, “See I’m Smiling”, “I Can Do Better Than That” and the ending song. Lyrically, they are all of high quality. Simple but clever and concise. Since this film is predominantly singing, with barely any dialogue, it relies on the lyrics and the acting to convey the story. And in this aspect, it definitely succeeds. The emotions it attempts to convey worked. I felt every high and low of their bumpy relationship. I do remember an interview with Kendrick where she said they made the conscious decision to keep the opening scene very simple and still, and let the emotions on her face and the lyrics do the work. And I think this subtlety worked much better than if she was to overdramatise the singing. Another interesting point mentioned in the interview was the panning down of the camera right at the beginning of the movie. It shows the other people living in Cathy’s apartment going on with their lives. When we are the lowest point in our lives, we wonder how other people can go and do ordinary things, but that’s life. The world keeps going, regardless of how much pain and loss we are suffering. This perhaps makes the first scene even more sad and compounds the loneliness of Cathy.
In terms of the singing and acting, it’s top notch, especially Kendrick. She is a rare thing, being an immensely good actor while also being able to belt those high notes. While both main actors sing extraordinarily well, I felt Jeremy Jordan’s acting was slightly lacking compared to Kendrick’s. I know Anna really wanted this role and I think it suits her perfectly. You can just read the expressions off her face and she really immerses herself in the character, in a believable manner. When she’s happy she looks like sunshine and when she’s angry, she’s like shooting daggers. The fact that they also sang the majority of these songs live adds to the authenticity and honesty of the relationship. Singing live means they were not restricted in their acting capacity and could adapt the tone and pace to suit what they believe was most appropriate for the scene. The scenes which were not done live, and were pre-recorded, were those which would not have been practical to do, such as the convertible car scene, and Jamie on his bicycle.
Overall, I think this movie and musical should definitely get more attention. It’s so underrated. Kendrick herself once said she wishes that more people would watch it, or even see the theatre production of it. And I agree. It’s a simple production, with pretty much only two characters throughout the movie. So I think you have to be emotionally invested or at least interested in these characters to get through the movie. Or if you’re a musical buff. While the ending is somewhat tragic and not your typical rom-com fanfare, I think the love it portrays is just as real as anything else, perhaps even more so as it doesn’t sugarcoat the dark sides. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine.
P.S. The opening scene with “Still Hurting” has got to be one my favourite musical numbers. Very well written and you can feel the ache of sadness. Watch it with Kendrick’s performance and try not to cry. Challenging.
P.S.S Even just listening to the soundtrack, I feel the same emotions I did watching the movie. It’s a great listen for whenever you want to be taken on an emotional journey.
1. Has anyone seen this on stage? Was it as good as the film?
2. Did anyone not understand the timeline of the plot the first time they watched it?
3. Do you think their marriage was doomed from the beginning or was it worth it, despite the heartbreak?