One of the Toronto International Film Festival’s biggest surprises last year was Richard LaGravanese’s sparsely staged, but lushly orchestrated and perfectly acted adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s tightly constructed off-Broadway musical.
Jumping back and forth through time between ages 23 to 28 for a pair of young lovers – budding novelist Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) and struggling actress Cathy (Anna Kendrick) – the story never takes a linear path, but matches up perfectly the ups and downs of a relationship the same way a great album would arrange tracks of love and heartache next to each other.
The music is top notch, perfectly produced, and expertly written, but it’s paired with an intimate, low key, low budget handheld style by LaGravanese. Think von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, but less of a downer. Well, it’s still a downer since we know from the opening scene how it’s going to end, but that’s not an unfair point of comparison stylistically. Only here, it’s a full on musical with almost no interludes, and every number is designed to be a go-for-broke showstopper.
Jordan and Kendrick have perfect chemistry and are able to convincingly portray the couple’s honeymoon phase alongside their acrimonious, jealously tinged marriage. The fact that they do it all without having a straightforward narrative and only a small handful of lines that are spoken instead of sung is astounding. Their energy and enthusiasm for the material gives the film the kind of lived in quality LaGravanese’s staging requires.
Sure, it might be aiming for twentysomethings and going straight for their feels, but damned if it doesn’t play perfectly.
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