Directed by: Justin Baldoni
Premise: A pair of teenagers (Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse) coping with cystic fibrosis participate in inpatient drug trials under the supervision of hospital staff. The two of them fall in love but the risk of infection keeps the teens from making physical contact.
What Works: Five Feet Apart is a romance made for a particular audience. Films of this sort are the cinematic equivalent of fast food; they exist to satiate a specific and preexisting desire on the part of the viewer. Five Feet Apart provides the spectacle of young love and untimely mortality in ways that should give its intended audience exactly what they are looking for. The extent to which this movie succeeds is largely due to its lead actors. Haley Lu Richardson is cast as a fun but responsible young woman who is a candidate for lung replacement surgery. Richardson is terrific in the role; she is a teenage girl first and a patient second and the story creates a sense of what cystic fibrosis has taken from her. Richardson is paired with Cole Sprouse as the sensitive artist with a mordant sense of humor. Sprouse epitomizes a certain kind of teenage male character familiar to stories like this and he and Richardson are likable together. There are a few undeniably affecting moments between them, particularly a pool scene in which the young lovers reveal their medical scars to each other.
What Doesn’t: Five Feet Apart exists within a well-established genre of sick teenager movies like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Dying Young and A Walk to Remember. If you’ve seen any of these movies, then you know what you’re getting and Five Feet Apart adheres strictly to the formula. Five Feet Apart is especially reminiscent of the 2014 hit The Fault in Our Stars, so much so that it’s fair to call the 2019 movie a rip-off. Five Feet Apart doesn’t even give us new kinds of characters. Just like in The Fault in Our Stars, the story of Five Feet Apart plays out from the point of view of a responsible young woman who falls for a dashing and rebellious young man suffering from a similar ailment. The mechanics of the narrative show through the drama and Five Feet Apart offers nothing that is new. The sick teenager genre depends upon stretching credibility but even allowing for that, there are a lot of unlikely scenarios in Five Feet Apart. The teens stay in a hospital that apparently has no security and their parents are almost never around. The nursing staff has supposedly strict rules about patient contact but these teenagers regularly violate those rules and are constantly in each other’s presence. The filmmakers have to do this for the purposes of their story but the constant disregard for the premise undercuts the movie’s credibility.
Bottom Line: Five Feet Apart ought to satisfy its intended audience. The movie is a standard sick teenager drama with no surprises and a lot of coincidences and implausibilities. But viewers who crave this kind of thing ought to get what they’re looking for.
Episode: #742 (March 24, 2019)