Movie Review: ‘Five Feet Apart’ still charms despite its blemishes
Director: Justin Baldoni
Writers: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis
Stars: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias
Synopsis: A pair of teenagers with life-threatening illnesses meet in a hospital and fall in love.
I have to admit, I went into Five Feet Apart expecting to roll my eyes at the usual sick-lit teen romance tropes. And, for the most part, this is a pretty standard entry in the genre. But, what I appreciated about this take was the believability of the premise, the likeability of the characters, and the way it was able to subvert expectations, at least at times, without seeming too self-aware of the tropes or winking at the audience too much.
There is certainly a suspension of disbelief that comes, at times, with this movie. I often found myself wondering how certain hospital staff members retained their employment when they constantly lost track of their pediatric patients, for example. But the basic premise – two teenagers, both with cystic fibrosis, fall in love despite not being able to touch – gives a unique and realistic Romeo and Juliet twist to the genre. I also thought the script handled the exposition behind the illness extremely well. The main character, Stella, has a YouTube channel in which she shares information about cystic fibrosis and her experiences with the illness, and the script’s use of these videos to share information the characters otherwise wouldn’t need to explain felt extremely organic.
My biggest complaints about this movie come with the dialogue and the pace. The dialogue was a bit stiff, at times, and both the first and last acts felt loose and rushed in a way that made it obvious that it was adapted from a novel. However, both Haley Lu Richardson as Stella and Cole Sprouse as Will have the charisma and the acting chops to carry the story despite these weaker elements of the script. By the second act break, I was totally sold on their relationship and genuinely liked both characters despite their more awkward, tropey interactions in the first act.
When it comes to the sick-lit genre, it is very easy to come across as either exploitative of the illness in question or romanticizing dying teenagers, neither of which are particularly awesome approaches. But Five Feet Apart, like other more recent entries in the genre, felt like a teen romance that happened to involve terminal illness rather than a movie about terminal illness that happened to involve teenage romance. This focus on character over premise allowed the script to divert some of the more obvious tropes of the genre while exploring other tropes from a slightly different angle (in the interest of remaining spoiler-free, I’ll leave it at that).
I didn’t expect much from Five Feet Apart, but I can say that I walked out of the theater glad I watched it. The script, though rushed and sloppy at times, was engaging, and I found myself invested in these characters and their story in a way I didn’t expect based on the trailers alone. If you have even the slightest interest in seeing this movie, I recommend that you do. But you pretty much know what you’re getting into – if you’re not interested for reasons other than fearing it’s a blatant The Fault in Our Stars knockoff, don’t waste your time.