Anna Kendrick is extraordinary in this two-hander raking over the coals of a relationship: it’s a lean, mean, musical machine.This is what Fifty Shades of Grey should have been. Only instead of whips and riding crops, the female lead must submit to infidelity and career humiliation. Anna Kendrick’s pure presence and screen talent, her sheer hypnotic professionalism, make this sung-through, musical two-hander a superbly watchable experience. It is based on the autobiographical stage show by Tony-winning writer Jason Robert Brown, and adapted for the screen and directed by Richard LaGravenese (who wrote Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace movie Behind the Candelabra).
Kendrick plays Cathy, the small town girl who has come to New York to break into Broadway musicals; she falls hard for a smart young writer, Jamie (Jeremy Jordan). They get married just as he becomes a bestseller, hailed as a “young Jonathan Franzen”, while her career refuses to take off; she has to do dire summer-season theatre in Ohio, while Jamie stays behind in New York, with all the parties and beautiful young women throwing themselves at him. The extraordinary, almost eerie thing is Anna Kendrick’s face: when happy, it lights up like an opened fridge, almost incandescent with joy. But when depressed, it is a death mask of anger and hate. This is a painful story, and we do not get the expected, perhaps even longed-for, palliative happy ending. It is a lean, mean, musical machine.