August 23, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Joe Angelo Menconi
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Arizona, the romantic comedy “5 Years Apart” features a predominantly white cast (with some Asians and African Americans) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two estranged brothers, who are five years apart in age but share the same birthday, have an awkward and tension-filled reunion on a weekend of their birthday.
Culture Audience: “5 Years Apart” will appeal primarily to people who like realistically written adult comedies with low-key humor.
The title of the romantic comedy “5 Years Apart” has a double meaning: The two feuding brothers who are the center of the story were born five years apart, and they’ve been estranged for the past five years. How estranged are they? They haven’t seen or spoken to each other in that five-year period. But that’s all about to change when they unexpectedly see each other again and find out that their love lives have become entangled in an unusual way.
“5 Years Apart,” directed by Joe Angelo Menconi (who wrote the screenplay with Zac Krause), is written in such a way that the characters are realistic and relatable because many adults know people who are just like the ones in this story. The two estranged brothers whose relationship is the catalyst for much of the story’s tension have almost completely opposite personalities and lifestyles. The movie takes places in Arizona during a weekend when the brothers end up in the same place for a birthday celebration. The brothers share the same birthday month and date, but they were born five years apart.
Older brother Andrew (played by Scott Michael Foster) is the responsible one who’s the type of person who likes to meticulously plan out his life. Younger brother Sammy (played by Michael Vlamis) is the irresponsible one who’s the type of person who likes to be impulsive and “go with the flow.” Andrew and Sammy live in Chicago, but (unbeknownst to the other) they’re both in Arizona, to stay at their parents’ house to celebrate their birthday on the weekend that Andrew turns 30 and Sammy turns 25. Their parents (who are not seen or heard in the movie) are on vacation for a month in Italy, so the brothers know that the house will be empty.
Andrew is married to Olivia (played by Ally Maki), who shares Andrew’s penchant for scheduling their lives. The beginning of the movie shows Andrew and Olivia planning for and worrying about when they’ll start a family. They have a slight disagreement because Andrew says he’s willing to take a second job if Olivia wants to take as much time as she can for a maternity leave. Olivia doesn’t want him to take a second job because she thinks he’ll be overworked.
Sammy is carefree and single. As Andrew and Olivia are seen settling into the house, Sammy is flirting with a woman he’s just met outside a bar. Her name is Emma (played by Chloe Bennet), and he immediately charms her by joking that the bar is his “house,” so she needs to take her shoes off before she goes inside. Over drinks, the flirtation continues between Sammy and Emma, who are obviously attracted to each other.
Emma and Sammy find out that they both live in Chicago, but Sammy says that he spends a lot of time in Arizona because he went to college at Arizona State University. (The movie doesn’t name the Arizona city were this story take place, but it’s safe to assume they’re in or near Tempe, which is where ASU is located.) Sammy works for a bounce house company called Sir Bounce-A-Lot. Emma works for a 3-D printing company. It’s a job she doesn’t particularly like, but she says it would be somewhat complicated for her to leave the job because her sister is her boss.
Because they both live in Chicago, Sammy asks Emma if she prefers the Cubs or the White Sox. When she says she’s a Cubs fan, he pretends to be offended because he’s a die-hard White Sox fan, and he jokingly moves to the other side of the bar counter. The banter between Sammy and Emma in this scene (as well as their chemistry together) is entirely believable. They both like to poke fun at each other in a way where you know that it’s a rapport they’ll keep having if they end up as a couple.
It’s not much of a surprise that Sammy and Emma go to his parents’ house for a sexual hookup. Andrew and Olivia are upstairs having their own (scheduled) sex, when they hear noises downstairs and go to investigate. Andrew and Olivia catch Sammy and Emma having sex on the living room couch. And that’s how Andrew and Sammy find out that they both want to stay at their parents’ house that weekend.
It’s also how Sammy meets Olivia in person for the first time and finds out that Emma is Olivia’s younger half-sister. (Sammy never went to Andrew and Olivia’s wedding, but he saw photos of Olivia before they met in person.) Olivia is also Emma’s boss, so Andrew already knows Emma. Stranger things have happened in real life. It’s made clear in the movie that Andrew cut Sammy out of his life, which is why Andrew probably never talked about Sammy to Emma and why she probably never saw any photos of him during the time that she’s known Andrew.
Sammy thinks it’s hilarious that the two brothers are romantically involved with the two sisters, but Andrew is not amused. There’s some back-and-forth tension between the two brothers, as they argue over who will get to stay in the house that weekend. In the end, they both agree to share the house, as long as they “do their own thing.”
Andrew is more determined to keep his activities separate from Sammy, but Sammy wants to be included in Andrew’s upcoming golf game. Andrew and Olivia are both golfing enthusiasts, but Sammy could care less about golf. He just wants to tag along because he knows it will annoy Andrew and because Emma will be there.
Why are Andrew and Sammy estranged? It’s revealed later in the story what caused the fight that led to their estrangement. The last time they saw each other before this trip, it was during a family get-together at Christmas when Andrew and Sammy argued about something, and Andrew punched Sammy in the face. There’s been bad blood between Sammy and Andrew ever since.
The sibling tension isn’t just between Andrew and Sammy. Olivia and Emma (who have the same mother) also have opposite personalities and have their share of squabbles. Olivia, who has a tendency to be a judgmental control freak, is estranged from her mother, who has a long history of being promiscuous and irresponsible. Emma is more forgiving of their mother, probably because Emma (just like Sammy) hasn’t quite figured out what to do with her life.
Emma and Olivia’s mother has been evicted from her apartment, and Emma has let their mother move in with Emma. When Olivia finds out, she’s furious with Emma, whom she calls an “enabler.” However, Emma sees things differently. She thinks that Olivia has lost her compassion and should be more understanding over why Emma wants to help their mother.
At the golf game, Sammy meets a guy who will be a rival for Emma’s affections. His name is Mark (played by Craig Low), a socially awkward Australian, who sees himself as a macho “jack of all trades,” but he’s actually more of a jackass. Andrew and Olivia know Mark through their job, and they’ve been playing matchmaker because they think Mark would be an ideal boyfriend for Emma. Mark is attracted to Emma, but the feeling isn’t mutual.
And when Mark sees Sammy on the golf course with Emma, the two men instinctively seem to know that they both want to end up with Emma. Therefore, Mark immediately insults Sammy by deriding the shirt he’s wearing and calling Sammy the childish name “Cookie Monster,” after the messy “Sesame Street” character. Mark’s insufferable attitude and constant jabs at Sammy get even worse as the story unfolds, and it culminates in one of the best scenes in the movie.
Meanwhile, it should come as no surprise that Sammy has invited some friends that he knows from his ASU days over to the house for some loud partying. Andrew and Olivia, who were expecting a quiet night at the house, are unhappy about this turn of events. They try to check into nearby hotels and find out that they’re all booked up because of an event happening in the area that weekend. And so, Andrew and Olivia have no choice but to stay in the house during Sammy’s party.
It’s pretty clear that Andrew and Olivia are the uptight “boring” couple, while Sammy and Emma are the open-minded “fun” couple. However, director/co-writer Menconi never veers into caricature territory with any of the characters, thanks to a lot of the movie’s snappy and authentic-sounding dialogue. A lot of credit also goes to the actors, since they all handle the material in a way that looks natural and effortless.
Bennet and Vlamis portray the more interesting couple, and they do such a good job of making Sammy and Emma believable together that people watching “5 Years Apart” might want Sammy and Emma to get their own movie. And although Sammy’s diverse group of friends aren’t in “5 Years Apart” for very long (they’re only in the party scene), they are also written as realistic people. (Malcolm Hatchett as Sammy’s friend Percy is kind of a scene-stealer, with his hilarious facial expressions and the way he delivers his lines.)
“5 Years Apart” isn’t the type of comedy where there are laughs every few minutes because of slapstick moments or raunchy jokes. Most of the humor is subtle and derived from situations that can realistically occur when stubborn and opposite personalities clash. The movie also has some emotionally touching moments that make this comedy worth watching if you want to see a “slice of life” story with people who come across as authentic human beings instead of joke machines or parodies.
Gravitas Ventures released “5 Years Apart” on digital and VOD on August 21, 2020.