Five Feet Apart

Aida Vucic | 26/03/2019

Five Feet Apart is an unapologetically soppy teen romance, anchored by good performances from two charismatic leads.

The film follows the story of Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) a teenager suffering from cystic fibrosis. Much of her life has been confined to the sidelines, being in and out of hospital repeatedly, forever in fear of contracting some infection. She’s bright and passionate, a perfect patient with slight neurotic tendencies. On the other hand Will (Cole Sprouse), who’s recently been transferred to the hospital, is more flippant with his medicines and refuses for the disease to deny him the right to live and live BOLDLY. There’s no mistaking what will happen between these two seemingly opposite individuals, but a relationship can be complex when your constricted to maintaining a radius of six feet apart at all times. The pair manage to circumvent this ‘small’ hurdle and take brief opportunities to share intimate exchanges of stories, hopes for the future and even are so bold as to take back one foot – hence the title of the film.

The film relies heavily on emotional puppetry, which may be effective for its intended audience but can be slightly nauseating for the rest of us. Its script is teeming with problematic lines and evident laziness. Fortunately for the script writers, Richardson and Sprouse are able to salvage the situation, with impeccable performances by both. Particularly Richardson, whose character is probably the most flawed, shows great skill in navigating and expressing the multitude of emotions experience by Stella from anger to grief. Richardson has cemented herself as an actress of this generation, and we eagerly await her next project. Sprouse, known more affectionately as Jughead in Riverdale, is more familiar with material of this nature, and as expected manages to give an affecting performance through the hammy one-liners and vaseline-covered lenses.

Importantly, Five Feet Apart is a film about cystic fibrosis and it treats the disease with the utmost sensitivity, managing to simultaneously educate and entertain audiences, which is a feat in itself. The films is Justin Baldoni’s directorial debut, transitioning from being in front of the camera to behind the lens. Baldoni shows strong promise, as he cultivates a genuine intimacy between the pair irrespective of them being confined to a hospital. Though he seems to lose his footing towards the last act, as it has more of the tones of a soap opera than a teen romance, he nevertheless manages to put his own spin on a genre that often feels tired and worn out, and for that he should be commended.

Conclusion

Another soppy teen romance, but this one with just enough heart and just enough difference to make it worth your while, even before considering how good an educational experience on cystic fibrosis it is.