Friday, November 28, 2014

Austin Film Festival Recap

Getting the opportunity to recently drop (clap, clap, clap, clap) deep in the heart of Texas, I attended several screenings at the Austin Film Festival. The annual fall event is one of roughly a gazillion festivals the capital city has every year, but as a multiple time visitor to it, I enjoy the film fest’s laid-back vibe and well organized band of volunteers that keep movie industry insiders — both current and prospective — coming back year after year.

But the ultimate success of any film festival is largely judged on the quality of the lineup, and this year’s batch of films was not quite a knockout in high-profile features. Still, there’s was certainly a little something for everybody, and I made sure to take in a wide ranging mix of films — including a musical, a documentary on posttraumatic stress disorder and a comedy about four adults trying to recapture their youth in a night on the town.

Here’s an admittedly belated back at my viewing schedule, sans the inevitable waiting in lines that permeate festivals. These will come in a series of posts over the coming days, with a review of "The Last Five Years" kicking things off.

“The Last Five Years”

Starring Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan
Directed by Richard LaGravanese

Based on a stage musical of the same name by Jason Robert Brown, “The Last Five Years” is pretty much wall-to-wall music with the two main characters (who are frequently the only people onscreen) singing about their respective views on a five-year relationship. It’s no spoiler alert for me to mention that the relationship is a failed one, with struggling actress Cathy (Anna Kendrick) lamenting the end of it in the film’s very first scene. Naturally, she and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan), a budding novelist, have a different perspective on their years together and why it failed.

Dialogue in the film is a bare minimum, and your toleration for the material will largely rest on how well you can handle hearing constant singing from two quite self-absorbed characters. To their credit, Kendrick (in her second big singing role after “Pitch Perfect”) and Jordan fill their roles well, yet can’t quite make their characters likable enough to want to spend 90 minutes with.

With the exception of Kendrick’s opening number, most of the musical numbers are in a loud, reaching-for-the-balcony-style that become a bit overwhelming as the running time stretches on. But at least it’s not a brain dead cliche-riddled romantic comedy — faint praise as that may be.

Grade: C

(The film has not yet been rated. Set for release Feb. 13, 2015.)

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