Just as emotionally manipulative as fellow teen fare like A Walk To Remember and If I Stay, but less as effective as Me, Earl and the Dying Girl and The Fault in Our Stars, Five Feet Apart is typically schmaltzy and insultingly pedestrian, but, as cinematic history has demonstrated, deliver on exactly what you promise – which is often easier said than done when it comes to film – and you’re likely to end up with a product that’s remotely successful.
A tear-jerker (at least it hopes to be) set throughout the halls and patient rooms of a nondescript US hospital, Justin Baldoni’s tween drama places cystic fibrosis as its medical disorder of interest, with Haley Lu Richardson’s Stella as the focal point; the charming Edge of Seventeen actress elevating the expected material with charm and dignity.
A social-media savvy blogger whose self-deprecating analysis of her disorder has earned her quite the following, Stella appears to be at peace with her affliction, and her anal tendencies means she has her regimen (the draining and exercising of her lungs, her drug-taking schedule, the strict guidelines to staying at relative distance to other CF patients) down to the finest wire, allowing no room for distractions.
Enter skinny rebellious distraction Will (Cole Sprouse, TV’s Riverdale).
Sprouting off non-realistic, tween-approved dialogue like “It’s just life. It’ll be over before you know it”, Will is every bit the angsty dreamboat the genre epitomises, and the bacterial infection coursing through his lungs means he’s on as much borrowed time as Stella, but given that he’s far more aloof with this treatments – his recent admission to the hospital due to him being on a drug trial – it makes perfect sense in the Mikki Daughtry/Tobias Iaconis-penned script for her to offer up her OCD services to him so that he too completes every necessary step in the road to intended recovery.
Films of this ilk tend to not play it for overt realism (that would be far too sad), they seem tailor-made for the cynics to sharpen their claws on (you can practically hear them wince on dialogue such as “I’ve been dying since I was born”), just as much as they are designed – Spotify-ready soundtrack and all – to cater to hollow tweenagers who somehow manage to relate to every tragic situation, no matter how far removed from reality they actually are; saying that you’re “literally dying” is actually, you know, much different from the literal meaning of that statement. Hashtag just saying.
A movie that sinks or swims off the back of its performances, Five Feet Apart – the title deriding from the length of distance Stella and Will have to keep between them in order to not catch each other’s infections – is mostly as tolerable as it is thanks to Richardson. She’s beautifully open-hearted and an absolute bundle of joy and vulnerability, and it takes mere seconds for us to connect with her. Sprouse, aesthetically atypical as he is, is less convincing as a character and more a caricature of the I’m-dying-and-I-know-it school. He commits to the material, but Richardson elevates it.
For its intended audience, Five Feet Apart will do just the trick, but if you’re expecting anything remotely deep or intelligent, you best stay clear as this sick-lit, doomed romancer delights in the bittersweet to the point of overindulgence.
About Five Feet Apart
Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) is every bit a seventeen-year-old: she’s attached to her laptop and loves her best friends. But unlike most teenagers, she spends much of her time living in a hospital as a cystic fibrosis patient. Her life is full of routines, boundaries and self-control — all of which is put to the test when she meets an impossibly charming fellow CF patient named Will Newman (Cole Sprouse). There’s an instant flirtation, though restrictions dictate that they must maintain a safe distance between them. As their connection intensifies, so does the temptation to throw the rules out the window and embrace that attraction. Further complicating matters is Will’s potentially dangerous rebellion against his ongoing medical treatment. Stella gradually inspires Will to live life to the fullest, but can she ultimately save the person she loves when even a single touch is off-limits?
Five Feet Apart (M) is screening in Australian theatres from 28th March 2019.