Is “Five Feet Apart” worth a date night at your local movie theater this weekend? Yes. . . but bring your tissues.
This tear jerking romance follows two teens as they fall in love while getting treated for cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a disease that requires the couple to stay at least five feet apart at all times. This crushing dilemma and the lessons they learn about life, love and death (not a spoiler, don’t worry!) are touching. However, this is an incredibly sad movie en route to a beautiful and positive end. But be warned. The film is romantic and touching, and very serious.
Hospitals are the last place on earth you might expect to find romance. After all, they’re filled with suffering and worry about the potential for dying—not exactly the setting for thoughts of endless love.
Yet hospitals are also inherently dramatic places. Medical staff nobly work to save lives and patients bravely hope, pray and strive to get better. The film “Five Feet Apart” tries to mine this intense terrain for a tear jerking teen romance that manages to find plenty to say to viewers of all ages.
Young actors learn timeless lessons about life and love
The film stars Haley Lu Richardson as Stella. She’s a teenage girl who has battled cystic fibrosis (called “CF” in the film) her entire life. The debilitating lung disease causes its victims to produce far too much mucus. Over time, things worsen to the point where patients will choke to death if they can’t get a lung transplant. Even if they do get a transplant, the new lungs typically work for only about five years. This basically serves as a way to buy time for scientists to hopefully find a cure rather than providing a full new lease on life.
Despite the many limitations that CF places on her ability to engage in most life activities, Stella is ambitious. She maintains a lengthy bucket list of her hopes and dreams. One day, she notices a new boy named Will (Cole Sprouse) down the hall from her in the special CF wing she’s living in long-term.
Will is in an experimental drug treatment program that has long odds of succeeding. He makes it clear that he believes striving to get better is futile. But he’s smitten by Stella and wants to draw her. Stella convinces Will to let her lead him in maintaining his medicine regimen and other key factors for his health in exchange for the right to draw her. Slowly a romance that also provides many philosophical lessons is born.
The biggest challenge facing the pair is that CF patients cannot be closer than six feet apart. This is because germ transmission between patients is particularly dangerous. Yet in the name of love and some measure of control over her life, Stella declares that she and Will will live five feet apart instead.
A quiet movie that speaks loudly to hearts and emotions
“Five Feet Apart” is a quiet film. It’s lacking in car chases, gun fights and intergalactic superhero warfare. Yet its willingness to buck the tide of all the noise that fills our multiplexes and speak softly and intensely to viewers’ emotions is daring in its own right.
This is a film that can feel claustrophobic at times. After all, it almost entirely takes place amid the halls and rooms of a hospital.
But director Justin Baldoni and the writing team of Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis (who are all making their feature-film debuts) aren’t lacking in imagination. Rather, they’re simply providing a real sense of the loneliness inherent to long hospital stays and the ways in which patients find ways to make the best of their situations. As someone who overcame a chronic illness that placed me in the hospital over thirty times in twelve years, I can attest that they capture every aspect of the nerve-wracking experience perfectly.
Richardson and Sprouse make a cute couple. The world-weary wisdom they’ve been forced to accept as they contemplate life, death, and the afterlife far earlier than most of their peers makes them a compelling couple, too. This is a film that hinges almost completely on the strengths of the two leads. They deliver by showing a love that is selfless, true and profound.
While it doesn’t espouse or deny a traditional Judeo-Christian concept of death and the afterlife, “Five Feet Apart” does provide plenty of strong examples of the true meaning of love and self-sacrifice. This movie will move viewers and serve as a reminder of how far we are called to go for our partner in life.
Ultimately, “Five Feet Apart” provides a welcome respite from the superhero bombast of “Captain Marvel” and the upcoming horrors of Jordan Peele’s terror-fest “Us.”
It won’t blow you away or leave you with a sense of awe, but it will speak to your heart, and these days that’s a beautiful gift indeed.
Characters and acting: 8
Overall: 8.5 out of 10