First loves are always looked back on in different ways. Sometimes it’s nostalgia, other times bitterness. On the other hand, the combination of first love with being young can make it that much more complicated. 6 Years is out to prove that no matter how long a couple has been together, it doesn’t stop the threat of life’s situations from leading them down the road to a break up. Director Hannah Fidell sets up the situation and problems which befall the couple well enough, but the film doesn’t stop from sometimes falling into the usual relationship stereotypes.
Melanie (Taissa Farmiga) and Dan (Ben Rosenfield) are approaching the end of their college careers. And true enough, if you haven’t noticed from the title, they’ve been together for six years. So right from the start, you know this isn’t the meet-cute and how they get together story of their relationship. And if you think about it, six years for 22-year olds must feel like a lifetime and Dan and Melanie have been together long enough that they’ve begun planning their future together.
Melanie is student teaching for her future career in education and Dan is interning at a record label hoping that they’ll hire him full-time at some point. Their relationship is far from perfect and their communication is sometimes subpar at best and the unraveling of their relationship begins to creep its way into the cracks. It isn’t helped by the fact that they are both moving in different directions or the fact that Amanda (Lindsay Burdge), older and more mature, is sweet on Dan. And so the question remains: do they stay together just because it’s become comfortable and they planned a possible future or do they let each other go?
The film paints the picture of a steady yet somehow slightly volatile relationship. You can see that they care deeply for and don’t want to hurt one another and this is obvious without words, as Fidell is sure to focus on a lot of the emotional aspects of their relationship. The waiting around for the phone call after a fight, the ignoring of a phone call in anger, and the lingering looks of thought as their minds race with how to get through this. Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield give layered performances as a couple on the verge of changing and moving on.
However, Farmiga’s character is unfortunately not given as much to do save for crying a lot and flying off the handle at the mere mention of breaking up, while Rosenfield’s character is the one who is experiencing the most change. We also see most everything from his perspective, so we’re not as privy to Farmiga’s perspective as much, which is disappointing. Even more disappointing is that both characters, near the end, tend to lean towards being walking stereotypes of lovers in a doomed relationship. Melanie overreacts and comes off as more childish than Dan, and Dan does things that make him seem cold and hurtful on purpose, both falling into the usual traps.
Ultimately, 6 Years is a different approach to what we’ve become accustomed to in the romance genre–most especially when it comes to young people in their early twenties. There are solid performances given by the lead actors, but the script doesn’t always flesh out both characters as equally as it should and so we’re left with more of Ben’s story and not too much of Melanie’s. Regardless, Fidell’s tone and direction keep the film steady and the characters relatable.