Five Feet Apart: A re-telling of a modern classic

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Five Feet Apart; Romance/Drama; 12A Rated; Released March 22, 2019; Directed by Justin Baldoni; Featuring Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, and Moisés Arias.

No one can glorify terminal illness like the Americans. Five Feet Apart is the newest installment in a long line of films fascinated with terminally ill young adults falling in love and defeating the odds of their diagnosis. The young adult romantic drama opened in the UK on March 22 and is the directorial debut of Justin Baldoni, better known as handsome Rafael Solano on Jane the Virgin.

Five Feet Apart opens with a dramatic and fast-paced montage questioning the importance of human touch which foreshadows, if not spoils, the film. The mood quickly shifts as we are plopped into what looks like a teenage girl’s room but turns out to be a hospital room. Stella Cant is a cystic fibrosis (CF) patient in need of a lung transplant. Quickly, we are introduced to two other so-called “CF’ers”; Stella’s best friend and the sultry looking boy who becomes her love interest, neither of whom Stella can touch due to the risk of infection patients pose to each other.

In many ways, Five Feet Apart feels like a re-telling of the modern classic The Fault In Our Stars. The film largely re-uses the premise of a smart young girl struggling to experience life due to her terminal illness is brought to life by a witty handsome young man who speaks in elaborate metaphors and in the end, someone dies. Spoiler alert.

The film might be applauded for raising awareness of the brutal symptoms of CF which causes too many to die young. However, it does so through rose-colored lenses. Smothered in warm colors the film is set in a five-star resort, I mean hospital, with beautiful wooden doors, large windows giving the whole space good natural light, and an atrium with a stunning art installation which later becomes part of a sickly-sweet treasure hunt for the CF Romeo and Juliet.  Despite the verbal depiction of the harsh reality of the genetic disease, visually the main characters looked less terminally ill and more like well-groomed teenagers with bags under their eyes.

The cast was an impressive trifecta of typecasting. Haley Lu Richardson (Edge of Seventeen) plays Stella Grant, whose wish to be cured has made her obsessive about her treatment. She is saved by the young heartthrob Will Newman played by Cole Sprouse who seemingly walked straight off the set of Riverdale only leaving his beanie behind. Moisés carried over his role from The Kings of Summer, playing Poe Ramirez, the spunky supportive friend, who very clearly was made gay so there is no confusion as to who the romantic interest is. The only actor to stand out was Kimberly Hebert Grant playing the concerned nurse Barb.

The film is arguably a tearjerker, but one might say it achieves that less through sophisticated storytelling and more by using dying teenagers. However, the saving grace of the film is that it definitely knows its audience. Aimed directly at young teenagers looking for a hit of that sweet innocent first love, the recycled script filled with clichés and romcom moments is sure to look nice on the Netflix shelf for lazy Sundays in a few months.