Main cast: Haley Lu Richardson (Stella Grant), Cole Sprouse (Will Newman), Moisés Arias (Poe Ramirez), Kimberly Hébert Gregory (Nurse Barbara), Parminder Nagra (Dr Hamid), Claire Forlani (Meredith Newman), and Emily Baldoni (Nurse Julie)
Director: Justin Baldoni
Since Five Feet Apart is often compared to The Fault in Our Stars, I guess it’s okay for me to do the same as well. The comparison makes sense: both movies are teen romantic tearjerkers, only for this one, we switch out cancer for cystic fibrosis.
Stella Grant is a bubbly young lady who tries her best to lead a normal life despite her condition, and she has a YouTube channel chronicling her ups and downs with cystic fibrosis. During her latest hospital stay, she meets Will Newman, another teen with cystic fibrosis currently with a life-threatening lung infection. He is there to undergo a clinical trial for a drug that will hopefully get rid of the infection. You can guess what happens next, I’m sure.
The title of this movie comes from how people with cystic fibrosis are asked to stay at least six feet away from one another, to prevent them from catching one another’s infections. Stella, frustrated by how her condition has robbed her of much of her ability to lead a normal life, defiantly announces that she’s stealing something back – one foot – and stay only five feet apart from those she cares for. It’s not something I will recommend people with cystic fibrosis to do, but I can understand where she is coming from, so yeah, I like the concept behind the whole five feet apart thing. Indeed, Haley Lu Richardson is the best thing about this movie: her Stella feels real, with a mix of determination and vulnerability that can resonate with me.
Poor Cole Sprouse, however. I have no idea how good he is – or isn’t – as an actor, but he never has a chance, as Will is written as a trite, eye-rolling cliché of the loner, emo bad boy without a cause. Everything about this character screams unlikable poseur. Stella has a far more believable friendship with her stereotypical gay BFF Poe, who also has cystic fibrosis, and Will is just a sore thumb that stands out in this movie as its weakest link.
The biggest problem with Five Feet Apart, though, is how it is obviously a movie written by people who have no idea what being a teenager is like anymore. Stella and Will all speak like forty-year old men trying desperately to go, “How do you do, fellow kids?” especially when they launch into monologues, and I can never take them seriously. Worse, this movie has all the Hallmark and Lifetime movie clichés doing a roll call. It is very predictable, how familiar events will show up at expected moments to lead to twists and turns that can be seen coming from a mile away. It also doesn’t help that the cloying sentimentality is off the charts especially in its late third or so.
As a result, this is a movie that is a complete 180 from The Fault in Our Stars. This one comes off more like a tearjerker written by corporate consensus, in which manufactured sentimentality and robotic use of clichés are on the menu to cater to the lowest denominator. The whole thing feels far more exploitative than I would have liked. If you want a tearjerker teen flick, watch the other one. Five Feet Apart is the plain, unimaginative, and far duller sibling of that movie.