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Five Feet Apart Movie Review

Five Feet Apart (2019) movie poster Five Feet Apart

Theatrical Release: March 15, 2019 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Justin Baldoni / Writers: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis

Cast: Haley Lu Richardson (Stella Grant), Cole Sprouse (Will Newman), Moises Arias (Poe), Kimberly Hιbert Gregory (Nurse Barb), Parminder Nagra (Dr. Noor Hamid), Claire Forlani (Meredith Newman), Emily Baldoni (Julie), Cynthia Evans (Erin), Gary Weeks (Tom), Sophia Bernard (Abby Grant), Cecilia Leal (Camila)


Perhaps the makers of Five Feet Apart figured, "If nothing else, at least the movie will raise awareness of cystic fibrosis." Unfortunately, the movie raises awareness of cystic fibrosis and does nothing else to satisfaction.

This weepy teen romance would like you to believe it comes in the tradition of The Fault in Our Stars and Everything, Everything.
Seventeen-year-old protagonist Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) suffers from CF, the aforementioned rare genetic disorder that principaly affects the lungs and severely impacts both the quality and expectancy of life. This Type-A personality teen has gotten used to hospital living and religiously following a strict regiment of meds, bronchodilators, and physical therapy, while avoiding physical touch and hoping to receive a transplant of new lungs.

Stella crosses paths with Will Newman (Cole Sprouse), a fellow CF patient in the same hospital of around the same age who is very much a Type-B personality. He's gotten into a clinical study testing an experimental treatment, but he cares more about drawing than about following all the rules. Stella and Will clash over their different approaches, but Will agrees to follow his prescribed orders to the T, just as long as he gets to draw Stella.

Romance blooms between Stella and Will, not out of the commonalities of their condition or the complimentary natures of their perspectives, but because they're good-looking twenty-somethings playing teenagers in a teen romance movie. Moises Arias, best known as playing the young opportunist Rico on "Hannah Montana", plays Stella's longtime gay best friend. He provides a couple of subplots while serving as intermediary to our principal couple that does little to endear us to them even with all the cards in the sympathy deck stacked in their favor.

In "Five Feet Apart", two teenagers with cystic fibrosis (Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse) fall in love and struggle to keep the medically recommended distance away from each other.

You'd think dealing with a real disorder that afflicts thousands of young people all over the world (but mostly North America) would inherently
imbue the filmmakers with some sensitivity and tact, but that isn't so. Justin Baldoni, best known for playing Rafael on "Jane the Virgin", makes his narrative feature directing debut after helming an episode of "Jane" and the CW documentary series "My Last Days" about people with terminal illnesses. That would appear to qualify him for the helm here, but he and the first-time writing team of Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis (who have also penned the upcoming Conjuring universe-adjacent horror movie The Curse of La Llorona) place tugging at the heartstrings and getting you to cry atop their priority list. This is a movie which finds family members and hospital staff enthusiastically signing off on a plan to subject someone coming out of major, life-threatening surgery to flamboyant emotional duress you'd only find in a movie.

No one expected Baldoni and company to give this the feel of a documentary, but you at least hope for some honesty and humanity. Instead you only find manipulation and contrivance. Stella and Will hold onto a billiards cue together to keep them separated the titular distance, which Stella declares as her greatest act of rebellion, striking back oh so slightly at the medically prescribed six feet of space (but still enough to anger the CF advocate community).

You assume there has to be some popular YA book at the foundation here, but there isn't (apart from a novelization hastily published last fall). That seems to set the film up for commercial disappointment on a film whose only audience might be teenaged fans of the CW who still go to the movies once in a while. The odds of them going over the next few weeks while this movie is playing seem slim, but distributor CBS Films is in the process of being folded and switching its attention to the monthly streaming service CBS All Acesss, so it probably doesn't matter either way.

It is cool that on the twentieth anniversary of Big Daddy, Sprouse is getting his second lead role in a theatrical film. He is better known for his television work, which includes six years spent on Disney Channel's "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" and spin-off "The Suite Life on Deck", three and counting on The CW's Archie Comics reimagining "Riverdale", and seven episodes as Ross Geller's son Ben on "Friends." But Five Feet Apart will do nothing to advance his acting career, nor that of his more arresting co-lead. Richardson, who had been building some cred in acclaimed films as varied as The Edge of Seventeen, Split, and Support the Girls, is better than the material here, although it does afford her more substantial screentime than anything else she's done to date and with a 2,600 theater count to boot.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Captain Marvel • Climax • Greta • Gloria Bell
Haley Lu Richardson: Support the Girls • The Edge of Seventeen • Operation Finale • The Bronze
Cole Sprouse: That's So Suite Life of Hannah Montana • The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: Sweet Suite Victory • The Suite Life on Deck: Anchors Away!
Cole Sprouse (continued): Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana • Wish Gone Amiss | Moises Arias: The Kings of Summer
Love Story • The Space Between Us

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Reviewed March 18, 2019.

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