Reel Shorts | Five Feet Apart

by Charles Kirkland

Another YA romantic drama plumbs the depths of a well previously dug in the new movie, Five Feet Apart.

Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) is back in the hospital.  She has come down with another to her sensitive system and must watch as her friends go off exploring the world on a trip that she planned.  Unfortunately, Stella has Cystic Fibrosis (CF) which is a deadly disease that fills her lungs with mucus.  While in the hospital she encounters a new and rebellious patient named Will (Cole Sprouse).  Where Stella is very organized and focused on her medication and getting better, Will seems to have no concern about whether he will live another day.  Stella’s self-confessed control issues take over and she makes it her mission to get Will to take his last-ditch experimental treatment seriously.  The question is will Stella change Will or will Will change Stella?

Cyctic Fibrosis is a serious and deadly medical illness that shortens lives and eventually kills its victims by filling their lungs with mucus and stripping away their ability to breathe.  Five Feet Apart does not shy away from the ugliness of this medical condition and the bleak lives that those afflicted can live.  Yet juxtaposed against the horror of this genetic death sentence, writing team Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis create the tender and creative atmosphere necessary to produce a young adult love story.  According to director Justin Baldoni (Rafael Solano from the CW’s, Jane The Virgin), Daughtry and Iaconis’ screenplay and the book written by Rachael Lippincott (with contributions from the screenplay writers) were both developed at the same time so supposedly neither one is the inspiration for the other.  To ensure an accurate portrayal, Baldoni made this movie in partnership with the charity, Claire’s Place Foundation which advocates for families of those who are afflicted with CF.

Straight out of his career resurrecting role on Riverdale, Cole Sprouse (The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) appears to be secure in his environment of playing the hot-tempered and resolute artist, Will whose condition is much more grave than his counterpart in the film.  Sprouse, in his first leading man movie role, is the perfect antithesis to Haley Lu Richardson’s, Stella in both appearance and attitude.  His slick and sarcastic coldness seems to be just the answer to Stella’s warm and friendly seriousness.  Will is the project boy that Stella has to fix.  After all, opposites attract, right?

Despite the fallacy of the premise, Baldoni and company create an interesting and, most times, cute movie.  Stella and Will have good chemistry and are well-developed characters.  Moises Arias (Ender’s Game) is good as the token gay comic relief, Poe and Kimberly Hebert Gregory (Kevin Probably Saves the World) is intense as Nurse Barb. 

Unfortunately, the movie is full of clichés and disintegrates in its third act into what could best be described as a cliched horror story full of indescribably inane moments that would leave viewers head aching from confusion if not from the repeated slapping palms to their foreheads.  The movie aborts the character traits so well developed throughout the film and presents two strangers who seem to have lost their minds.  The film then asks the viewers to believe that their actions have no consequences.

This movie is definitely made for the young adult crowd but after seeing movies like Everything, Everything many of them may feel like they have seen this movie before and they know how it is going to resolve itself.  Fortunately, fantastic film YA films like The Hate U Give have shown that good films can be made in this genre that doesn’t devolve into dreck but realize that the audience is smarter now than they have been before and deserve better.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, and suggestive material, Five Feet Apart is a tender tearjerker of a movie that takes CF seriously but not its audience.  Shame.

Grade: C-

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