Is Anna Kendrick the new Julie Andrews?

Is Anna Kendrick contemporary cinema’s Julie Andrews?
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This is a question that occurred to me while watching the beginning of the film musical The Last Five Years. I thought it was an original question until halfway through when Kendrick appeared on the screen in a grey striped apron, twirling round in circles like Maria, but it is one that’s worth having a quick look at new or not.
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I also thought I was the first to get into it until a quick google search revealed Billboard magazine had picked up on a similar thread but I’m going with it nonetheless.
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In the thirties and fifties, when talking pictures and cinema itself was still quite young, the tradition of musical theatre strongly pervaded much of what was seen on the big screen. As a result a number of the biggest stars were song and dance artists; Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Elvis even and latterly Julie Andrews.
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Films have clearly moved on since and it has been a while since we’ve had a star well known for their singing, let alone building a career around it. There are obviously those, like Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman, who can famously hold a tune and there are plenty of successful vocalists who have made their mark on movies like Cher but no one who is properly combining acting and singing. Even Jennifer Lopez who has found great success in each area is not bringing them together. In fact it is hard to equate that feisty young woman from Out of Sight with J-Lo at all.
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Disney had something similar to the old studio system going for a while with young performers contracted as actors and singers but the kids like Selena Gomez and Zac Ephron who are breaking out of that into mainstream movies still aren’t capitalising on both skills.
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In Anna Kendrick though we have someone who is beginning to carve out a career and a reputation as a musical star based on just a few films. When Kendrick did Pitch Perfect the fact that she was doing all her own singing was something worthy of comment but following that movie’s success it suddenly didn’t seem so strange. She has only followed this with two other musical roles, three if you include Pitch Perfect 2 released this month, but this could be enough. The first of these films to be made but the second to reach cinemas was the aforementioned The Last Five Years and the other was Sondheim/Disney’s dark fairy tale Into the Woods.
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The Last Five Years had the briefest appearance in select UK movie houses three weeks ago, before becoming immediately available for home viewing. The film is an adaptation of an Off Broadway show that has been running off and on since 2001 telling the story of a young couple’s half decade relationship.
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After her time with the Barden Bellas Anna Kendrick seemed like obvious casting and she performs her part with exactly the right amounts of gusto and charm. She also nails the anguish felt when a relationship comes apart and the fact she is singing her pain only strengthens this; mere words cannot express her emotions. As an audience you don’t share in her sorrow though because her partner is a real creep and you know she’ll be better off without him.
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In the end The Last Five Years is a fairly standard, possibly even soapy, relationship drama told in song but there is nearly enough there to keep you interested until the closing credits, nearly. The tunes are catchy too if a little samey. .
One of the things that set the original stage show apart was the mixed chronology where her story was told from the end of their time together and his from the start but this is fudged in the film. 
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Kendrick is one of a large company in Into the Woods and probably gets third or fourth billing but her involvement is key. The very first note is also hers. She isn’t an obvious choice to play Cinderella, having more sass than the character is known for, but this is no conventional fairy tale.
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As anyone who has seen the stage show in its twenty eight year history will know what it’s about. It is a retelling of the familiar narratives of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Repunzel and Little Red Riding Hood and I think there is no escaping the fact that it worked better in theatres.
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The story is in two distinct halves, the first where everyone works toward their happy endings and the second where their comfort and contentment unravels. Without a distinct interval though the film feels like one movie running rapidly straight into its own contrasting sequel. Also, a deliberately unconvincing wolf costume is excusable on stage but on the big screen, among some very good special effects, it just looks like a deliberately unconvincing wolf costume. Consequently when Little Red skins him and wears his coat as a cape you can’t help but feel it is part of Johnny Depp she is parading around in.
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This said, everyone gives great performances and while Emily Blunt probably steals it, Anna Kendrick shows again how comfortable she is in musical shoes. The reason the film belongs to Blunt is largely because of her occasional reaction to the bizarreness of the genre she is in. Kendrick on the other hand plays it straight because she belongs in this world.
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So is Anna Kendrick contemporary cinema’s Julie Andrews? No, not really. Like Andrews she is building a reputation for being in musicals (three in the space of six months no less) despite doing more work in regular roles but unlike her she doesn’t quite have the voice. Don’t get me wrong, the girl can sing, but Andrews was something exceptional. Julie Andrews is in the same league as legendary songstresses like Judy Garland but (I’m sure she won’t mind me saying) Kendrick is not. No, Anna Kendrick is not really contemporary cinemas Julie Andrews but there is something about her career that is a throwback to a golden age of Hollywood and that’s super (califragilisticexpialidocious).
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Pitch Perfect 2 is out in a week.
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