Five Feet Apart
Updated: Jul 12, 2021
Five Feet Apart is one of those manipulative, epic teen romances where two young people fall in love against the odds and try to find their way through the forces keeping them apart. In this case, it is not parents or class issues or dystopian societies. It is a disease. They both have different types of cystic fibrosis, meaning they cannot get within six feet of another CF patient without risking a worse infection. We are supposed to want to see them overcome this space and risk everything just to feel each other’s touch. However, in the most intimate moments, I could not stop myself from thinking “Don’t walk toward him, stupid! You could die!” That was how I knew the movie was not working for me.
This is the story of Stella, a brave, focused, responsible teenager with CF (and OCD, which is used more like a plot convenience than a developed character trait). As she waits for new lungs, she checks back into the hospital to deal with an infection. That is where she meets Will, who is her total opposite. He is sarcastic, pessimistic and does not take his treatment seriously. Of course, he immediately falls for her and, of course, she is charmed despite his irresponsibility. We could all probably recite this plotline in our sleep and the movie does absolutely nothing you would not expect.
One thing Five Feet Apart (110 minutes, minus the end credits) does well is establish the daily reality its characters must contend with. Every day is a routine of medication, treatment and worry. Mortality is constantly on their minds. But they are also teenagers, so thoughts of dating and partying with friends are there, too. It is a pretty good concept, rarely explored, ripe with emotion and perfect for a tearjerker. It tries to be true to those who struggle with CF, an admirable goal to be sure. Yet, in execution, it is almost exclusively setup. All the cystic fibrosis stuff is just there to add extra suspense to the romance.
So then what it comes down to is, do you care enough about these two people to want to see them go against doctor’s orders so they can end up together? I was ambivalent. Haley Lu Richardson is sweet and has the charm to occasionally rise above the material as Stella. Cole Sprouse, as Will, has some lame dialogue, but holds his own in several of the more serious scenes. While they were both good individually, I never completely believed in the passion they supposedly had for each other. They just were not interesting as a couple.
The bottom line is Five Feet Apart was not made for me. It was not designed to transcend its genre and appeal to a wide range of moviegoers. It was made for those who enjoy potentially tragic romances, can look past the contrivances to root for the lovers and, maybe, have a nice cry at the end. You know who you are. Sadly, I am not one of you. I did not hate Five Feet Apart, or really actively dislike it. There were even a few moments that engaged me (mainly involving Stella’s pragmatic approach to dealing with her situation). It only wants very badly to be exactly what it is. That will make some audience members extremely happy, while others may strain themselves rolling their eyes.
1¾ out of 5
Haley Lu Richardson as Stella
Cole Sprouse as Will
Moises Arias as Poe
Kimberly Hebert Gregory as Nurse Barb
Claire Forlani as Meredith
Directed by Justin Baldoni
Written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis