Five Feet Apart starts off as a strong, competent look at the life of a young girl named Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) hospitalized with Cystic Fibrosis (an incurable, life-threatening disorder that causes the lungs to be filled with mucus). Despite her restricted life activities and reduced lifespan, she remains optimistic about life and its many possibilities.
An interesting premise that grabs your attention fast, but then quickly falls into the cliched territory of all other romantic films. It hits all the beats of your typical chick flick, the bad boy that the protagonist falls in love with, forbidden love, and an overblown ending that ignores logic and reason. I think the fact that the CF community has responded to Five Feet Apart with such mixed reactions is a perfect indicator of just how unusual this movie plays out.
Cole Sprouse is of course stuck playing the bad boy who just isn’t that into you, but over the progression of the film he learns to love. I can’t stand this type of character because you know exactly the transformation he’s going to go through. And due to this overused character and hackneyed writing, his acting suffers too.
The saving grace of Five Feet Apart is hands down Haley Lu Richardson, who gives a terrific performance that gives the film its only sliver of credibility. I wouldn’t mind seeing her in other films in the future, as she portrays CF with dignity, respect, and a sense of curiosity towards life.
Occasionally we get a real tender moment from Five Feet Apart, which is usually provided via Haley Lu Richardson, who manages to work through the clichéd cheese. I also felt the film had some neat camera angles thrown in there to spice things up (yet not nearly as frequently as needed). And, I’d dare say I learned a thing or two about the illness along the way.
But what this film is truly lacking is a deeper sense of purpose. The deeper meanings of life with terminal illness are only explored at a surface level, exchanging genuine emotion for a melodramatic and unrealistic love story. The same love story, in fact, that has been told countless times by many romantic chick flicks in years prior. They’ve always got the gimmick too, like the guy is a soldier or the couple both have cancer. Well, now they have Cystic Fibrosis.
And it isn’t enough just to use CF as some cheap hook to play at the vulnerable audience’s heartstrings, especially considering the unanswered questions and difficult situations Five Feet Apart digs up. This subject requires particular depth and care that the writers and director were unable to provide.
Watching Five Feet Apart may help you to sympathize with someone who has Cystic Fibrosis, but never truly empathize with them. We’re never given the opportunity to put ourselves in Stella or Will’s shoes, because the choices they make along the way are so corny, so manipulative, all forms of empathy are tragically thrown out the window.
The Verdict: D+