SXSW Film Review: ‘6 Years’

Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield give committed performances ill served by writer-director Hannah Fidell's overly melodramatic approach.

Taissa Farmiga, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burdge, Joshua Leonard, Jennifer Lafleur, Peter Vack, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Molly McMichael.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3799372/

Having explored an illicit affair between a high-school instructor and student in “A Teacher,” writer-director Hannah Fidell focuses on a doomed relationship of a rather more banal (if age-appropriate) sort in “6 Years.” Although shot and performed in a determinedly raw, naturalistic register, this emotionally roiling portrait of two twentysomething Texas sweethearts too often veers toward melodramatic overstatement, inspiring little empathy or understanding despite the committed performances of promising young leads Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield. The backing of exec producers Mark and Jay Duplass will draw a measure of attention, but not enough to distinguish this low-budget effort in the indie marketplace.

Staggering home drunk one night from a party, Mel (Farmiga) awakens her boyfriend, Dan (Rosenfield), their groggy banter suddenly exploding into an argument; the scuffle that ensues leaves Dan with a bump on the head, and Mel aghast and apologetic. They’re quick to make up, but the incident foreshadows still messier times ahead for two people who have been together for six years — a milestone that seems to inspire more incredulity than respect among their friends and acquaintances. We learn that these Austin natives have known each other most of their lives, but their steadfast devotion to each other is beginning to give way to gnawing dissatisfaction and uncertainty, especially as they’re just starting to figure out what they want to do with themselves: Dan is an intern at a record label, while Mel is an aspiring schoolteacher.

Initially it seems to be a mere matter of their not really liking each other’s friends — though it’s hard to see why, given that Dan, Mel and their respective circles don’t seem to have too many unique interests beyond hanging out, getting wasted, and talking about sex with the sort of strained forthrightness that feels more like a screenwriter’s affectation than anything else. Something similar might be said of the moment when Dan, left alone at a party, impulsively kisses his flirtatious co-worker Amanda (Lindsay Burdge, “A Teacher”), a mistake that will have startlingly ugly consequences for him and Mel — including a night spent in jail, an embittered separation, a narrowly averted crisis, an impulsive betrayal, and several more angry, harrowing confrontations. All this cranked-up turmoil coincides with the arrival of an unexpected job opportunity outside Austin for Dan — a plausible enough development that, under less contrived circumstances, would have been more than enough to prompt the characters toward a thoughtful, poignant reconsideration of their relationship.

Fidell has a fondness for hurling the viewer directly into the action. Just as “A Teacher” began with its taboo relationship well under way, so “6 Years” picks up near the end of its eponymous time frame: Avoiding flashbacks to happier times for Mel and Dan, the script instead employs brief snippets of exposition to fill in the necessary background. It’s a jagged, stripped-down approach, especially compared with the more full-bodied storytelling of similar-themed dramas like “Blue Valentine,” “Like Crazy” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” and with the right finesse, this slender 80-minute feature might well have achieved an impressive balance of narrative economy and bracing forward momentum.

But “6 Years” simply doesn’t have the skill to do more with less. Scene after scene, the writing strikes continually clunky notes; even a simple sequence in which Dan discusses his future with his mother (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), who’s concerned that he might be putting his career on hold for his girlfriend’s sake, feels too obvious by half. Mel’s family, meanwhile, is briefly mentioned but left offscreen, adding to the sense of a story that’s missing a crucial element of context; there’s too little insight into the past and far too much overheated angst in the present.

Farmiga and Rosenfield (“A Most Violent Year”) achieve some of their most natural and moving moments early on, when Dan and Mel are basking in the glow of their as-yet-unspoiled affection, or nervously discussing the possibility of using porn to spice up their sex life. Throughout, the actors are always believable as young lovers slowly realizing they may have committed themselves too soon, and “6 Years” does mine some poignancy from the tension between the life Mel and Dan have long envisioned for themselves, and the possibilities they never thought to consider. To really dramatize that tension, however, would require a more delicate touch than is evinced here.

Farmiga, as luminous and expressive as her older sister Vera, is a galvanic screen presence even when she’s reduced to repeating soap-opera dialogue like “How could you do this to me?!” But at a certain point, she and Rosenfield seem to be leaping over narrative hurdles rather than persuasively inhabiting their characters’ emotional confusion, and Dan and Mel aren’t well defined enough to stand out against the film’s overly familiar backdrop of booze, lust and bad decision making. Andrew Droz Palermo’s handheld widescreen lensing of moodily understated Austin locations lends the drama a fittingly rough-and-ragged texture, but even within the unvarnished aesthetic, the editing choices tend toward the overly abrupt (none more so than the final cut to black), particularly when juxtaposed with the jarring eruptions of upbeat music on the soundtrack.

Popular on Variety

SXSW Film Review: ‘6 Years’

Reviewed at ICM screening room, Century City, Calif., March 12, 2015. (In SXSW Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 80 MIN.

Production: A Duplass Brothers Prods. presentation in association with Arts & Labor. Produced by Kelly Williams, Jonathan Duffy, Andrew Logan. Executive producers, Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass.

Crew: Directed, written by Hannah Fidell. Camera (color, widescreen), Andrew Droz Palermo; editors, Sofi Marshall, Carlos Marques-Marcet; music, Julian Wass; music supervisor, Chris Swanson; production designers, Annell Brodeur, Lanie Faith Marie Overton; sound, Renee Stairs; re-recording mixer, Lyman Hardy; visual effects, Kirby Conn.

With: Taissa Farmiga, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burdge, Joshua Leonard, Jennifer Lafleur, Peter Vack, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Molly McMichael.

More Film

  • Cat in the Wall Movie Sarajevo

    Sarajevo Film Festival Builds Bridges Through Art

    Rising from the rubble of the Bosnian War to become one of Southeastern Europe’s leading film and TV industry events, the Sarajevo Film Festival has plenty to celebrate as it marks its 25th edition this year. The festival was established in 1995 during the four-year siege of Sarajevo as part of an effort to help [...]

  • 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band

    Film Review: 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas'

    Settling in to watch “ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” you may have a burning question that applies to almost no other rock documentary, and that is: Who, exactly, are these guys? The ones behind the beards? If you’re old enough, of course, you probably know that ZZ Top started out, in 1969, [...]

  • Patricia Louisiana Knop Dead: Screenwriter Was

    Screenwriter Patricia Louisianna Knop Dies at 78

    Screenwriter Patricia Louisianna Knop, who collaborated with her producer-director husband Zalman King on erotically-charged films of the late 1980s and 1990s including “Siesta” and “9 1/2 Weeks,” died Aug. 7 in Santa Monica after a lengthy illness. “9 1/2 Weeks,” starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger, was directed by Adrian Lyne, co-produced by King and [...]


    How 'Blinded by the Light' Brought Bruce Springsteen's Music to the Screen for a Song

    Blinded by the Light co-writer/director Gurinder Chadha knows firsthand what it feels like to be an outsider. Born in Kenya when the country was a British colony, she grew up part of the Indian/Asian diaspora who made their way from East Africa to London. For that reason, the 59-year-old’s movies has always dealt with the [...]

  • Studio Movie Grill Announces New Theater

    Studio Movie Grill Announces New Los Angeles-Area Dine-In Theater (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Studio Movie Grill circuit will open a new dine-in theater in the Glendale, Calif. Arts District, CEO Brian Schultz announced Friday. The new theater complex will be 60,000 square feet with 10 screens and will take the place of the former location of the MGN 5-Star Cinema, located near the Glendale Galleria, in the [...]

  • Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in

    Fall Movie Preview 2019: From 'It: Chapter 2' to 'Little Women'

    Summer may be ending, but that doesn’t mean there will be a dearth of content at the multiplexes. On the contrary, studios are filling up theaters with Oscar-season content, popcorn fare and family films through the end of the year. From Greta Gerwig’s star-studded “Little Women” adaptation to the highly anticipated sequel to “It,” Variety [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content