We have seen this kind of terminal romance over and over again. From the lots of award-darling, Love Story (1970), to the surprisingly good John Green’s adaptation, The Fault in Our Stars; or from the lots of sappy Nicholas Sparks’ A Walk to Remember to the melodramatic Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, Hollywood seems to always find more disease to jerk audiences’ tears with the glorified disease porn movies. Five Feet Apart adds up to that latter list of tearjerker—well-intended and well-acted; but too fixated to the young-adult tropes that it washes down the fore-mentioned two qualities.
The antagonist of the story a.k.a. the disease is cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease that affects patient’s lungs with over-produced mucus. You are excused if you’ve never heard of this one before. The rule is strict; CF patients must keep the distance at minimum six feet apart between each of them to prevent cross-infection.
Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) is a positive-minded CF patients who actively shares her experience through YouTube to bring awareness of the disease. She meets Will Newman (Cole Sprouse), another CF patients at the same hospital, who is taking a trial medication to get rid of B. cepalia infection in his lungs. Stella loves control and lives her life too strictly; in contrast, Will is hopeless and loves to break the rules. Despite their opposite personality, the two grows closer with each other and finds romance finally blossoming between them. Aware of the six feet rule, Stella decides to “take one foot back” and steal one feet away from the distance, leaving them only five feet apart, hence the title.
Haley Lu Richardson (Split, The Edge of Seventeen) guides us into the story with a star-making performance. Get yourself familiar with her from now on because it’s not impossible that this is her first step to stardom. Haley Lu’s magnetic performance finds a perfect match in Cole Sprouse’s ever-ethereal charm, which has emanated ever since Riverdale time. The chemistry between them is tricky since their characters are restricted with the six-feet rule, even when they’ve discounted it to five. Haley Lu and Cole manage to deliver a delicate look of a couple who can’t even kiss each other. If the only goal of Five Feet Apart is to create awareness of CF, it works; unfortunately, this movie is a whole lot more than that.
Five Feet Apart is a complete text-book. When it doesn’t revolve around the cliches hanging around every corner, it sinks the story deep in the realm of melodrama. Director Justin Baldoni of Jane the Virgin seems to take The Fault in Our Stars as the closest benchmark. At times, the whole movie feels like
a deliberately sappy fan-fiction The Fault in Our Stars which lays its foundation on the likability of the leads. Both the script and the direction think alike—playing it safe in a sugar-laced tropes while jerking as much tear as possible.
Imagine the whole movie as a sweet, safely-played song cover by Boyce Avenue.
Five Feet Apart (2019)
Romance, Drama Directed by: Justin Baldoni Written by: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis Starred by: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias, Kimberly Hebert Gregory Runtime: 116 mins