An improv-heavy script and two strong lead performances make 6 Years an under-the-radar surprise. Meditative and unforgiving, Hannah Fidell’s film is a fully-realized and honest look at the wears and tears at a long relationship between two individuals on the cusp of adulthood.
Melanie (Taissa Farmiga) and Dan (Ben Rosenfield) have known each other since they were children and are now in their early twenties, six years into a romantic relationship. Dan interns at a record label, while Melanie is on the path to becoming a grade school teacher. They have a plan set out and are happily in love until Dan is tempted by a job in New York City and the two’s tracks begin to divert.
For the summary to imply that the trouble begins Dan’s job offer is a bit of a distraction from the larger issue at play, one that we see begin in the mere opening minutes. Dan realizes that Melanie has driven home drunk and begins to tell her off, angering her, and when she threatens to drive home, he gets in the way. A physical altercation ensues, and he hits his head on a desk and has to be taken to the hospital.
This brief but violent moment of hostility is just one in a handful of them throughout the course of the movie, one that even at its short running time moves on to redundancies rather quickly. What makes the film so interesting is that the combative attitudes on display–particularly from Melanie, who always seems on the verge of a blow out–are never, ever taken lightly. We can tell the two characters love each other, but their relationship has grown toxic. Melanie has grown needy, always worried about where Dan is or what he’s doing, and Dan is so passive that he’s more likely to wander than be direct with her. While their moments of domestic bliss have a certain charm to them, aided by palpable chemistry by Farmiga and Rosenfield, it’s the moments of combustion that are captivating. There are real-life consequences to their actions, and it’s interesting to see on screen how often Dan is the wounded party. Both make mistakes, but Melanie’s are the ones that come with the most dramatic consequences, and despite her stature, Farmiga performs a mean feat in presenting a volatile and threatening presence.
Never once in the film did I want these two to work things out and be a good, solid couple. Fiddel has done a marvelous job at setting the scene of two individuals who may love one another but are no good to or for each other. Trips to the ER, a night in jail, public screaming matches…these aren’t the foundations of a happy relationship, and Fiddel does good work in presenting both why the fights happen, but also why they’d reconcile at the end. The film itself reminded me of my feelings after seeing The Spectacular Now, where I’d been left annoyed at the notion that the director wanted us to root for the main pair despite how self-destructive they were.
Farmiga and Rosenfield are the two stars of the film, and they bear the emotional heft, both of them rising to the challenge of both the improvisational nature of the script and the intensity of many of the scenes. Where Farmiga is a loose canon, all emotional tethers ready to be pulled, Rosenfield presents a more internalized character, passive to a fault but endlessly charming.
6 Years falters in the third act when one or two scenes don’t quite click in the overall thematic narrative, but it’s wildly intriguing throughout, even when I was wishing for a bit more story. Time is never wasted in the film, but there are many moments that could have been done to better success, mainly in the last third.
Regardless, it’s a film worth watching, one that depicts young love in all its toxic and swooning glory.
6 Years is out on iTunes and VOD now and will be released on Netflix on September 8th.