There’s a gentle sweetness to Five Feet Apart that manages to save it from sickening saccharine. If there’s one thing the current global climate could use, it’s a little compassion. Granted, director Justin Baldoni stumbles a bit in the finale, but manages to regain its footing before the credits roll. And the title itself has even found itself amongst outcry from the medical community as the rule for those with cystic fibrosis is, apparently, six feet apart. But the title is explained in the film and is used as a plot point. Five Feet Apart may still succumb to all the standard teen drama clichés over its two hours, but the endearing cast keeps it from falling into the same old tropes.
Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will (Cole Sprouse) are a couple of hospitalized “CFers” who meet cute in the NICU. Both are being seeing for cystic fibrosis treatment, but while Stella is there for routine, turns out Will also has B. cepacia. Lucky for him, his mom (Claire Forlani) has money and he’s trying out a new drug trial. And while Stella and Will may not quite like each other at first, most of the movie will come as no surprise as we see them grow fonder through various montages. It doesn’t hurt that Stella’s long-time friend Poe (Moises Arias) does what he can to play cupid as a way to deal with his own romantic shortcomings. Now, the two must find a way to cope with their emotions as their ailments keep them apart. Yes, this is where the title fits in.
Richardson has always been good no matter how small the role. Typically starting in smaller arthouse dealings, it’s been a long road for her from The Bronze, The Edge of Seventeen, Split, and now Five Feet Apart. She has a charming disposition and it goes a long way when the film starts to slip up toward the end. Sprouse has had an even longer career in front of the camera. I was very surprised by how grown up little Ben from Friends/Julian from Big Daddy has become. Not being a viewer of CW’s Riverdale, I had no idea he was still acting, let alone playing Archie Comics’ Jughead. He doesn’t have quite the same amount of charisma as Richardson, but the two are at delightful enough together to make the film work.
If there’s one thing going against the film, it’s when Baldoni turns on the melodrama. Shenanigans ensue and odd character decisions arise — mostly involving Stella’s backstory of her suffering from survivor’s guilt after her sister’s death. And the film takes a turn for the Romeo and Juliet kind as our doomed lovers wind up having to stare death in the face. Thankfully, it comes back around and saves itself from getting too cheesy while walking a pretty good tightrope already. Is Five Feet Apart a new teen classic? Not even close. Is it worth a trip to the theater? I think if you’ve made it this far through the review, you’ve probably made up your mind already. But for those of you who may be on the fence, there’s plenty of charm to appease anyone who happens to get dragged to it against their will.