The opening scene of Hannah Fidell’s “6 Years” captures the ecstasy, playfulness and passion of young love. Dan (Ben Rosenfield) and Mel (Taissa Farmiga) are exchanging giddy and unbridled smiles as they have sex, and a subsequent montage follows the couple going through the carefree, beer-soaked motions of young adult relationships.
But these two aren’t in a new relationship. Both barely of drinking age, they’ve been together for six years, as a starry-eyed Mel tells her girlfriends one evening. And the youthful bond is starting to strain under the stresses of growing up and entering the world.
Mel is a junior in college who seems content if not challenged with her student assistant job, while Dan is finding a new friend circle and exploring his passion for music with an internship at a record label. (Set in the Never Neverland of Austin, the movie does a solid job of depicting the beer-soaked life of night swimming and karaoke with which so many Austin residents are familiar, though the idea of someone working for a record label, much less one that is expanding from Austin to New York, feels like a bit of an anachronism.)
As Dan becomes more interested in spending time with his work friends, especially his boss Amanda (played with slinky leonine sexuality by Lindsay Burdge), the drifting apart puts a strain on the relationship. Drunken confrontations, violent accidents, and unspoken fears and resentments begin to compound themselves, and you can sense the inevitability of tragedy, given weight by pregnant pauses and silent glances between Mel and Dan.
Not much happens to the characters in “6 Years.” But they are at the point in life when things are about to happen. The two characters are both approaching new chapters in their lives, though Mel seems to be less aware of the evolution, and they both alternately cling to the safety of their adolescent romance while pushing the other away.
Much of what is going on with the two characters is internal, and Farmiga delivers a strong performance as a young woman alternately wrestling with and ignoring her desires and fears. Fidell, whose dark, Austin-shot “A Teacher” won accolades at SXSW in 2013 after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, has again proven herself adept at getting inside the mind of a woman caught up in the maelstrom of an unstable romance. While her debut explored a different kind of romantic relationship (a teacher and her high school student), “6 Years” has a more universal appeal. It gives shape to the anxiety and emotional tumult that comes with maturation and the struggle to hold a relationship together after irreparable fissures have already started to form.
“6 Years,” which following its world premiere Saturday at SXSW was purchased for global distribution by Netflix, screens again Friday at 11 a.m. at the Topfer Theater.