'Five Feet Apart' Review

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“The Fault in Our Stars”, “If I Stay”, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”, “Me Before You” and “Then Came You” are just SOME of the recent movies involving young people falling in love while dealing with an illness or medical emergency.

The latest is “Five Feet Apart”. Unlike most of the others is this category “Five Feet Apart” isn’t based on a novel. However, one was published in November by the “FFA” screenwriters to get the YA demo ready for the movie. This screenplay is technically “original”, but in name only.

Haley Lu Richardson (“The Edge of Seventeen”) and Cole Sprouse (“Riverdale”) play Stella and Will. They’re teens afflicted with cystic fibrosis who meet and romantically connect while in the hospital. The problem is – the disorder prevents them from having any physical contact with each other. Stella and Will must stay six feet apart from each other at all times, or else they can catch bacteria from the other person that could lead to infection and death.

But you’re probably asking yourself, “Why is the movie called ‘Five Feet Apart’?” Well, it’s not just because of alliteration. Stella and Will eventually realize that they want to get as close as possible. What’s the harm in stealing a foot of distance when CF has taken away so much from them?

Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse
Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse

Like the majority of movies in the “sick kids fall in love” genre, the strength of “Five Feet Apart” is the performances. Richardson and Sprouse are terrific together as these star-crossed teens (though they’re both in their mid-20s in real life). Sprouse’s longtime friend from his Disney days, Moises Arias, plays Stella’s gay best friend, Poe. And Kimberly Hebert Gregory does her best to rise above an equally stock character, the (over)protective nurse.

The main problems with “Five Feet Apart” are the concept and execution of the story. This is both heavy and heavily cliched. The script includes way too many predictable scenes, including the surprise birthday party party and the couple dancing on a frozen lake. Other elements are either too Hollywood cute or unnecessary.

First-time director Justin Baldoni (best known as Rafael Solano on “Jane the Virgin”) says much of “Five Feet Apart” is a direct homage to “Romeo and Juliet”. That explains the heavy-handed melodrama and theatrical feel. Not to mention the overemphasis on… well… death.

Structurally, the opening act is well done, the middle section is quite good, but the final act goes astray – overkill significantly dampening the impact.

If you’re a fan of the two leads, and are in the target age bracket, “Five Feet Apart” is worth the monetary and emotional investment. Otherwise, it’s OK to stay away from this “been there, done that” saga.

Jackson Murphy: Emmy Award-winning Film Critic / Entertainment Reporter. Broadcast Film Critics Assoc. (@CriticsChoice), SAG-AFTRA (@SAGAwards)