Ever since Love Story (1970), there have been movies about young love with tragedy. Whether it is The Notebook (2003) or The Fault in our Stars (2014), it is one genre of film that won’t go away anytime soon. While some of these are good films (i.e., the aforementioned ones), others (though filled with some fine lessons to draw from) fall short of the heart strings, such as the more recent Five Feet Apart.
Set mainly in a hospital, we meet teenager Stella (Haley Lu Richardson), who has been living life with Cistic Fibrosis. She is still rather upbeat, despite knowing her survival chances are low. She still keeps a daily routine of countless meds, keeping a video blog (which is rather successful), and being a total socialite with the nurses and other patients, especially her best friend Poe (Moises Arias), who is also homosexual.
Things change when a new patient enters, the (clearly) rebellious Will (Riverdale’s Cole Sprouse, who, a long time ago, was enjoying the Suite Life on Disney Channel with his twin Dylan), who also has CF. It is told to them (as well as the audience) that those with the disease must have a distance of six feet at all times, so they will not catch the other person’s bacteria (if so, it is pretty much a death sentence). This is especially emphasized by one of the main nurses, Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory).
There is little much of a back story at first for the characters, until we find out that Will’s mother (Claire Forlani) is a single wealthy parent, and Stella’s parents have recently split (not to mention suffering from a recent loss in the family). One of the movie’s faults is that it takes some time before we actually see any of Stella’s immediate family in the hospital (it seemed like it took them half an hour or so before we realized she had anyone at all before the film began.)
That Will and Stella eventually fall for one another is a given, and the one saving grace of the film is the two leads (especially Richardson, who I have seen in a few movies before and can tell she will have a solid career ahead of her). Chemistry in a romance is critical, and the two talented young leads do have it. Director Justin Baldoni also gives us some effective (albeit very obvious) shots of the two with distance between them (as the movie progresses, we do learn Stella wishes to take back from CF, by moving one foot closer to Will, hence the title).
One of the nice lessons the movie teaches is how to love with action instead of words (1 John 3:18), and (despite some rule breaking), that is what makes the relationship between Will and Stella somewhat bearable. It is a good reminder that in sharing the Gospel with others, our actions should be in accordance with our words. What was not bearable was the clichés such as a certain death and a tragic event toward the end that was nearly tacked on and totally full of sap.
Parents, if you have teenagers (or even preteens), chances are they probably heard of this film. The movie is PG-13, with a decent amount of swearing (I think I heard two F bombs). While there is no sex in the film, there is talk about it. There is also one scene where, on a date, both Will and Stella are at the pool, and strip to their underwear to show each other their scars (before jumping in). I would say (mature) middle schoolers and up, but that is just me.
As I have gotten older, I have found myself more and more content with the fact that I can tear up at certain films (I admit I did in some of the films mentioned at the beginning). Five Feet Apart did not do that to me, though I wanted it to. Perhaps what upset me the most is that I realized most young people will think of this as a film that is a good cry flick and settle for it. There are better ones out there you should seek, because, as the film does remind us, life is short.
As Will would say, “We are breathing borrowed air”.
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[…] the credits rolled, I would shake my head in disappointment. Some of the more recent ones include Five Feet Apart (2019), Yesterday (2019), Me Before You (2016), and 2018’s The Kissing Booth (to be […]