Five Feet Apart
Five Feet Apart is the latest YA/teen romance that portrays youthful teenagers falling in love in spite of the ill-fated disease that plagues both of them. This particular scenario is commonplace for the genre and has been done several times before (see 2014’s The Fault in Our Stars or 2018’s Midnight Sun). So, does Five Feet Apart differentiate itself from these similar films or is it just another “run-of-the-mill” adolescent melodrama endeavour?
Stella Grant suffers from cystic fibrosis (a genetic disorder that mostly affects a person’s lungs) She returns to the hospital for a lengthy duration to receive medical treatment when her condition “flares up” and makes herself at home there, respecting the “six feet” apart rule, where patients are forced to keep their distance from other CF residents. Enter Will Newman, a new arrival CF patient who’s undergoing a special clinical trial, who immediately takes a shine to Stella. While initially resistant to Will’s forward charm, Stella eventually warms up to the teenage artist, sharing a special bond of friendship as she helps him with his self-treatments and medicine during his stay. However, while the two can’t touch or even be close, a budding relationship ensues, with Stella confronting past memories and her current situation, while Will faces his own mortality and the life he chooses to live.
Directed by Justin Baldoni (who makes his feature film directorial debut with this project), Five Feet Apart takes the classic teen cinematic arena of filmmaking and presents it in a movie that focuses its narrative on Stella and Will’s day-to-day lives in the hospital and how they cope with their disease (physically and mentality). Moreover, the picture sheds a light on the condition of cystic fibrosis and how fragile a person’s life can be. Essentially, Baldoni makes the story work, proceeding to tell a tale that focuses on living with a such a diagnosis and the finality of it.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the movie is the combined acting talents of the central leads. Played by Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen and Spilt) and Cole Sprouse (Riverdale and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody), these two characters are (quite literally) the beating heart of the film, with both actors providing enough theatrical dramatics and likeability to make the protagonists likeable and heartwarming. Of the two, Richardson perfectly handles a lot of the feature’s emotional weight, while Sprouse is solid as the more brooding, rebellious youth. Sadly, the majority of the supporting cast gets shortchanged, with their characters ending up as window dressing.
The main problem, however, is the overall familiar tragic teen romance genre. The narrative, while meaningful, tender and tugging on heartstrings, feels extremely formulaic and predictable, taking all the commonly used angst of young people falling in love in the movies (including a bloated dose of syrupy or tearful adolescent melodrama). In a nutshell, the story just lacks originality and creativity to make it different from similar features that have come before. This doesn’t completely derail the viewing experience, but it certainly hampers the film’s aspirations to reach a loftier goal. Additionally, the third act feels drawn out, prolonging the ending with unnecessary builds ups and making the movie overstay its welcome.
In the end, Five Feet Apart, despite strong performance from both Richardson and Sprouse, as well as its gentle story of love and life, falls short of establishing itself within its genre. Those who like movies like this may see something special in it (and will possibly love it), but many will find it to be derivative of The Fault in Our Stars.
Five Feet Apart is released nationwide on 22nd March 2019.
Watch the trailer for Five Feet Apart here: