3 out of 5 stars
The challenge with young adult dramas is trying to strike a balance between a life lesson and finding genuine emotion within the film. With a cystic fibrosis ward as the backdrop for Five Feet Apart, first-time director Justin Baldoni attempts to capture the emotions of those impacted by this potentially fatal disease while delivering a teen love story with a lesson in the connectivity of humans.
Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) is the epitome of the driven and inspirational young woman who attempts to live a full life despite having cystic fibrosis (CF). Since contracting the disease, she has been in and out of the hospital with the underlying hope for a cure of the potential for a lung transplant. While in the hospital the young patient tries to maintain her disciplined regiment of medications and activities while being an encouragement to the staff and other patients through her vibrant disposition and her daily vlogs. She relies on her best friend Poe (Moises Arias) for laughs and solace within this potentially bleak atmosphere even while he suffers through his own struggle with the disease and his sexuality.
Even though Stella is able to maintain her own life balance, things get out of kilter when a new patient moves into the ward. Will Newman (Cole Sprouse) is a fellow CF patient who has a less than positive outlook on his life and the outcome of his health. Even though each had a different perspective on life, their polarising personalities eventually draws them together, except they must remain six feet apart (1.8m) at all times. The bacteria of the disease makes each patient more susceptible to a fatal outcome if they get too close to one another. A distance that makes the temptations even greater which leads the couple to find creative means of connecting and building into their relationship. This budding love affair continues to grow until the realities of the past and present begin to cause the chasm between them to grow.
On the surface, this seems to be a convoluted and contrived young adult romance, but it does deliver something special for audiences. Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis’ screenplay contains many of the trappings found within this genre, specifically how the beautiful people find each other, but Richardson and Sprouse prove they have something to offer. Due to their physical limitations, the story moves beyond the typical hormonal teen antics and shows that romance is more than sex and can deliver an unexpected emotional punch.
Five Feet Apart does expose the devastating impact of cystic fibrosis, but this is not the main thrust of the film. Justin Baldoni never loses sight of the severity of the disease, but keeps the focus on the chemistry between the lead characters. Some of the melodramatic aspects of teen life does erode away at some of the critical elements of the story, but the strength of the central characters keeps things from collapsing. The film tries to prove that life should never be taken for granted and how we all strive for human contact. Despite being packaged for teens, this is a story that will prove to be accessible to multiple generations.
REEL DIALOGUE: Do you wonder what comes after death? Death is not a new subject in the world of cinema. The characters in Five Feet Apart are confronted with the potentail of death with every passing day and breath. They all attempt to work through the realities of life and death throughout their young journeys.
Thankfully, the Bible provides most of the answers that the young people were searching for in the film. This is where the promise of eternal life that comes from the God of the Bible truly brings this subject matter to life. To dig in deeper, it's all there to be considered in Revelation 21-22.
It is not too surprising that belief in an afterlife exists. The difference found in Christianity is that access comes from a place of sacrifice and selflessness. To find out more, check out these links to find the real answers to the life, death and more.
Where to look for more details: John 3, Romans 3, 8, & 10