Here at last is peak Kendrick: In intimate long takes and in comic montage, she belts, hurts, swoons, and rages, always remaining appealingly human. You can tell, when Anna Kendrick scraps for her big notes, that she's not a natural, that she's working hard, that she's living a dream. All that fits her character in The Last Five Years, an actress for whom neither love nor career is working out. Simply put, she's grand, and her scenes and songs -- which constitute most of the film -- are worth treasuring.
As for the movie itself? First we need to go back to off-Broadway. Elegant, spare, and rigorous in its form, Jason Robert Brown's two-character chamber musical The Last Five Years found rare joy and pain in the simplest of stories: Boy and girl meet and lose each other. They took turns singing their story, her songs starting at the relationship's sad end and his at its horny start; they only sync up once in the show, when he proposes, and they hold hands, duet, and waltz.
The show dug at the most frightening doubts: that you and the partner you love are not feeling the same things at the same time -- that she's going her way while you're going yours. The movie, adapted by Richard LaGravenese, chucks that clarity. Onscreen, Cathy (Anna Kendrick) and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) are all over each other, robbing that wedding scene of its formal power. But the leads make up for it. They're as strong as Brown's tuneful score, which is one of musical theater's best of the new millennium.