Five Feet Apart is A Fault in Our Stars with less kissing in the Anne Frank House. If that’s not enough to deter you, you’ve already seen this movie.
But if you’ve made it this far in the review (a whole two sentences), you’re either a glutton for punishment or related to this reviewer. Either way, settle in, Mom.
Five Feet Apart starts, as any great movie should, with moralizing voice over narration. Washed out video footage glazes across the screen while our main character, Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson), waxes philosophically on the nature of love, loss, and human contact. Then, in a flurry of integrated exposition, the audience learns through context clues that Stella has an essentially terminal illness (cystic fibrosis) and spends a lot of time in this hospital. She knows all the nurses and doctors, has her medical regimen down pat, and spends her time teaching herself French, coding an app, and uploading daily YouTube videos chronicling her journey. She is friends with another cystic fibrosis patient down the hall, Poe (Moises Arias). Arias, for reference, plays Rico in Hannah Montana. That has nothing to do with Five Feet Apart, it’s just important to me that you know.
But it’s not Arias on the poster making eyes at our heroine. No no no, dear reader. It is a different child star popularized by a Disney Channel show—Cole Sprouse, of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, playing Will Newman. Will is the edgy and cool and nihilistic cystic fibrosis patient. At first Stella wants nothing to do with him, because she’s a smart girl who plays by the rules. But he wins her over with his moodiness and artistic ability (and his heart of gold, if only you can get under his tough exterior). Suddenly, Will and Stella want nothing more than to be with each other, but alas, they cannot touch. If those four sentences are tiring to read—imagine how tiring the nearly two-hour movie feels.
Now the title makes sense. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation advises patients to remain at least six feet apart at all times to avoid cross-infection. Will and Stella take it a foot closer because they’re teenagers and it’s romantic and definitely not because it sounds better as a title. So we have our movie.
In all fairness, the acting in this movie is, on the whole, quite good. Richardson, Sprouse, and Arias are all believable in their performances. The three of them are better than this movie, but they squeeze all of the genuine emotion and gravity they can get out of this–like water from a stone. The secondary characters are all serviceable, aside from the rotating cast of unimportant teenage friends that are so unimportant it’s not worth finishing this clause.
The main problem with this movie is that its characters become extremely frustrating very quickly. Teenagers, as they are wont to do, break the rules and endanger themselves (and others). Five Feet Apart toys with these ideas but ultimately discards any real meditation in favor of using them as tearjerkers or tension builders. If audiences want to simply get lost in a sad romantic drama, it’s perfectly fine to use Five Feet Apart to do it. It’s just frustrating to watch these characters make objectively bad decisions (decisions that are out of character for them to begin with) in the name of love. It would be different if the movie took itself seriously. Five Feet Apart has the opportunity to explore the ideas of mortality for terminal illness patients, or the value of life for those who are asked to be old when they are too young. But instead, we get a few grim jokes, some dramatic moments, and those three sad songs that are in every teenage drama movie. You know the ones.
Featured Image by CBS Films