|Posted by Nick Spake on March 14, 2019 at 11:05 AM|
“Five Feet Apart” is the latest entry in the dying teenager tear-jerker, a genre that’s become increasingly popular ever since “A Walk to Remember.” As far as these movies go, the best is probably “The Fault in Our Stars,” which was elevated by a wise screenplay and a career-best performance from Shailene Woodley. On the other end of the spectrum is “Everything, Everything,” a film that started off with potential and then completely jumped the shark with an infuriating twist. “Five Feet Apart” falls somewhere in between the aforementioned films. At its best, this is well-acted, well-intentioned romance with a few genuinely effective scenes. At its worst, it resorts to a lot of formulaic and forced moments.
Haley Lu Richardson from “Split” and “The Edge of Seventeen” is almost hard to recognize as Stella, a seventeen-year-old living with cystic fibrosis. Of course, at times it feels like she’s barely living at all, being confined to her hospital room and unable to come within five to six feet of anyone. On the plus side, her laptop keeps her connected with loved ones and her best friend Poe, who also has CF, is never too far way. Cole Sprouse of Jughead fame plays Will, the hunky new CF patient on the block who’s accepted that he’s probably going to die and thus lives life on the edge. This upsets Stella, who pushes Will to take his condition more seriously and get on a stable regimen. Will eventually starts to follow suit and as he spends more time with Stella, she’s motivated to take more chances. After all, you only live once.
The best part of “Five Feet Apart” is the chemistry between Stella and Will. Their courtship isn’t without its clichés, right down to the fact that they’re opposites who don’t get along at first. As the two become more comfortable with each other, though, a charming romance does begin to blossom that’s not without its sincere moments. More often than not, the way these two talk about the life-threatening condition they share feels honest and the film doesn’t shy away from harsh reality. Richardson and Sprouse are obviously very attractive people, but both fully commit to these roles, spending much of the film with tubes in their noses, rings under their eyes, and mucus coming out of their mouths. There’s an especially imitate scene where both strip down to reveal their scars. As close as they become, it appears a physical relationship of any kind will always be out of the question.
For all the scenes in “Five Feet Apart” that ring true, however, there’s another that feels like a cheap shot. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the final act where somebody makes a choice that’s not only unbelievably stupid, but also completely out of character. I actually heard other audience members groaning in the theater over this decision, which snowballs into something even more contrived. In moments like this, the film regresses from the insightful coming-of-age story it could’ve been to an episode of a CW melodrama. Granted, the target audience for this film is probably anyone who watches “Riverdale,” but “Five Feet Apart” could’ve been smarter while still appeasing the teen demographic.
If you’re looking for a sentimental story designed to trigger the waterworks, “Five Feet Apart” is passable for what it is. The performances do go a long way and to give the filmmakers credit, they don’t copout with the happiest ending. For those looking for something more, though, there are better films that tackle the teenage experience and the tragedy of life being cut short. It’s by no means one the best date movies out there, but at the very least it might keep people away from some of the lesser Nicholas Sparks adaptations.
Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Stars