Serving as a roller coaster of emotions, Five Feet Apart remains its status quo as an enticing film, only occasioning falling prey to the standard textbook of Hollywood clichés. Starring leads Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse in a fascinating meditation on the very real disease known as “cystic fibrosis,” Five Feet Apart certainly implements familiar tricks to anyone who has seen even a single film in the genre. The story is about two teenagers approaching adulthood, who find love in the most unlikely of places. It’s hard to see from this initial premise how such a film could be even remotely successful. And frankly, it isn’t the premise that sells the story as a noteworthy success. Even with the somewhat drab stylistic choices, it still has real heart to it, using its two leads in a script that complements both perfectly. Instead of feeling like an actually compelling story, Five Feet Apart chooses a more mundane plot in favor of highlighting its performers, a decision that may not benefit either the film or its cast in the short term, seeing how the film is already disappointing financially, but could result in more diverse and challenging roles for these actors and actresses in the future.
Through the sharp lenses of both Will, played by Cole Sprouse, and Stella, played by similarly leading Haley Lu Richardson, we find these two characters as cystic fibrosis patients. And in its depiction, the film is reportedly accurate, an attribute that most films regarding such a topic should have. The actors were counseled by a real life cystic fibrosis patient, Claire Wineland, who unfortunately past away. It’s clear that both Wineland’s and both Sprouse’s and Richardson’s efforts to tell an authentic portrayal of the rather underscored illness flourished. It’s visible in every moment, every line of dialogue, and in every frame.
For one, Haley Lu Richardson portrayed her character in such a fashion, that it almost momentarily made me forget the sheer number of tropes that surrounded the story. The inclusion of such cheap tricks of making the audience feel emotion ultimately takes away from what Richardson was able to accomplish with her performance. And not to forget Cole Sprouse, whose performance might have been even more lively than Richardson’s. He is essentially the heart of the film, a position that he flourishes in, given that he is able to provide some depth to the hollow, melodramatic lines.
Additional characters such as the nurses really give a sense of the environment as well as the different kinds of people who face the disease on a daily basis. As an audience, we believe the world we are seeing could actually happen, outside of its preposterously upbeat first act. In fact, yet another issue with the screenplay, the film is far too optimistic and doesn’t seem grounded in the mental consequences such a destabilizing disease would have. Clearly, Five Feet Apart was designed with the intention of a PG-13 and a demographic of teenagers, but it would have made for a much more believable story if they had simply sharpened its content and added edges to it. There’s certainly nothing wrong with aiming for a PG-13 rating, in fact 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody proves that it should be taken as a sin, given its four Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Rami Malek, and its boatload of money at the international box office. But Five Feet Apart deals with topics that simply don’t fit under the construct of a PG-13 teen romance, the direction taken simply feels far too safe, a term that could be applied to nearly every single aspect of the production itself, even its studded roster of performances.
In the end, it’s hard to see Five Feet Apart being anything less or more than five feet away from greatness. It is meekly average, burdened by a one-note script and uninspired direction. But it certainly has its merits, merits that would most likely allow any of its target audience to still walk out pleased and full of emotion. Five Feet Apart is definitely a mild success for its teen drama genre, still outclassed by more superior and authentic takes such as The Fault in Our Stars and Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower. It may not be remembered for much, but it’s the necessary push for both Richardson and Sprouse into stardom.
(Synopsis Courtesy of CBS Films) Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) is every bit a seventeen-year-old... she's attached to her laptop and loves her best friends. But unlike most teenagers, she spends much of her time living in a hospital as a cystic fibrosis patient. Her life is full of routines, boundaries and self-control -- all of which is put to the test when she meets an impossibly charming fellow CF patient named Will Newman (Cole Sprouse). There's an instant flirtation, though restrictions dictate that they must maintain a safe distance between them. As their connection intensifies, so does the temptation to throw the rules out the window and embrace that attraction. Further complicating matters is Will's potentially dangerous rebellion against his ongoing medical treatment. Stella gradually inspires Will to live life to the fullest, but can she ultimately save the person she loves when even a single touch is off limits?
FIVE FEET APART is Playing in Theaters Now.