Five Feet Apart is an angst-driven love story between two teens with cystic fibrosis. They struggle with a chronic lung condition that’s slowly killing them, while trying to obey the rule to remain at least six feet away from anyone else with cystic fibrosis or they’ll fatally cross infect each other. Easier said than done when the two main characters fall in love and all they want to do is get close to one another.
Actor turned director Justin Baldoni (Jane the Virgin) shines when he’s building a plethora of sweet moments for the two talented leads. He draws on having directed a docu-series about Claire Wineland (My Last Days), a real-life cystic fibrosis patient who documented her journey on YouTube. She also served as a consultant on the film, before she passed away in 2018.
Screenwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis have woven honest elements from true-life stories into a seamless tale of star-crossed lovers. The setup is perfect for the genre and great pains are made not to condescend, preach, or make light of the subject. They’ve captured and portrayed the grim humor of Wineland’s life without making it all about her.
Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) is a clinically OCD patient who documents her journey on YouTube. She is optimistic about her life, though she knows it’s likely to end soon. Committed to following all the rules, she decides that she needs to take charge of the new handsome bad boy in the sick ward, Will (Cole Sprouse), who turns out to be her polar opposite.
From Stella setting Will straight so he’ll actually take his experimental medication that he’s been avoiding, to Will showing Stella how much fun it can be to break the rules, the two go on a series of dates that bring them increasingly closer, though not physically since they will die if they break the six-foot barrier.
There is a great deal of intimacy in the looks, the silences and the quiet suffering of Will and Stella as they fall in love without the ability to touch one another. The inner struggles that they are both battling is their desire to stay alive even if they’re not able to fully live their lives. Much could be learned from this film for teens in the audience who are figuring out about dating as well as many romance movies that overly rely on how and where to place a hand, a touch or a kiss.
Overall this film is another tear-jerking trek on a well-worn path of tragic romances. There are laughs to be had, honesty abounds, surprises are few and it’s hard not to really care about the inevitable fate of the cast.
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