Five Feet Apart review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Here we have yet another entry in the ever-growing dying-teen drama subgenre. The formula should be familiar by now: one or more teenagers are suffering from some condition or disease and try to find romance during their few remaining days. Five Feet Apart adheres close to this proven method of creating tragic love but does so with an earnest and heartfelt approach, realizing that there’s more depth within the tone and setting than the lackluster dialogue.
The condition this time around is cystic fibrosis. If you’re not familiar with it, the central character of Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) fills us in on all of this as she’s currently undergoing an extended hospital stay for a medical study. What it essentially means is that her lungs are dying and her body is overwhelmed with mucus. To combat this condition, she takes a series of meds, uses a special breather, and a vibrating vest to get things moving within her body. There’s also one more condition: she can’t be within six feet of someone else with cystic fibrosis or there’s a risk of cross-infection.
That last rule seems tough considering she’s on a floor of the hospital with other cystic fibrosis patients undergoing the same trial. She has made friends with her gay neighbor teen Poe (Moisés Arias) but is mostly drawn to the bad-boy Will (Cole Sprouse). She can’t stop thinking about him considering how hopeless Will views this whole trial. The best result from all of this is that a lung transplant can be made and that they’ll live maybe a handful more years. Until then, they could die at any moment. Stella has developed a comfort with her mortality but also a commitment to hoping something better comes around the next day. She tries to push this concept on Will despite his constant pushing away of others for feeling cheated by life. A romance soon blooms.
Of course, the toughest aspect of maintaining a relationship is the distancing. Thus, the film’s title comes into play as Stella declares via her YouTube page that she’ll strive to go five feet apart, risking infection to be just a touch closer. This leads to a date where Stella and Will use a pool cue instead of holding hands and you can’t help but admire their cuteness on a hospital date. They’ll later form a surprise birthday party using what few resources they can scrounge from the cafeteria. Will they eventually kiss and doom themselves or will they adhere to the rules to live a few more years?
You may already know the answer if you’re accustomed to these types of films where you can almost set your watch to the beats of sweetness and tragedy, all of which arrives right on schedule. But it’s pointless to dissect the film from this standpoint as its all about how well it works its magic on a crowd. And I must admit that by the time the film reaches its driving climax, there was a tiny lump in my throat for this unfortunate couple. The theater crowd was of a similar perspective, the many dates drowning in tears.
Five Feet Apart doesn’t do a lot to separate itself from the endless salvo of other dying teen dramas. The characters are fairly stock and the dialogue is so bland at times that the only way Will can express his feelings for Stella is to say “I love you” over and over. But when it comes to earning those tears, Five Feet Apart at least works a little harder by avoiding a handful of cliches and committing itself to an atmosphere that feels more genuine and thoughtful than routine for this familiar story.