‘Five Feet Apart’ Depicts the Necessity of Human Touch

The latest hospital romance film improves on its medical accuracy but falls short elsewhere.

Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse in 'Five Feet Apart'. (Courtesy of CBS Films)

“Five Feet Apart” chronicles the unfortunate love story of Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will (Cole Sprouse), two teenagers with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening illness that forces them to stay five feet apart from each other at all times. Despite this rule, they fall in love while being treated at the same hospital. What follows is a love story in which their mutually craved touch has deadly consequences.

In his directorial debut, Justin Baldoni made sure to depict CF as accurately as possible by working with late Claire Wineland, a prominent CF activist and speaker, and by partnering with the Claire’s Place Foundation, an organization focused on “providing emotional and financial support to families living with Cystic Fibrosis.” This collaboration is evident in the unromanticized and painfully realistic portrayal of hospital treatments, which provides more specificity than usually found in similar movies. The film also excels in its portrayal of just how much time CF treatment takes.

A lot of the film’s runtime is spent illustrating Stella’s daily routine, which is dominated by her CF. The most exciting artistic choice of the movie is Stella’s hospital room, which is highly decorated and inspired by Wineland’s passion for making hospital rooms more comfortable and welcoming.

While the movie excels in illustrating CF, it falls short on writing and plot. “Five Feet Apart” does not attempt to move away from the preconceived storylines that come with the dying teenager subgenre. On top of the slightly formulaic plot, most of the line delivery, especially by Sprouse, comes across as cliche.

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On the whole, Stella’s character feels fully developed and human, though occasionally falls into the trope of casting mental disorders as quirks, a big part of the plot being her OCD. Will, however, feels unexplored and one-dimensional. From the very start, he’s portrayed as the edgy patient, wearing a anime-esque mouth mask, dressed in black and with lots of existentialist teenage angst.

Some of these traits are rooted in the fact that he is “breathing borrowed air” and coming to terms with the futility of the treatments. But, since we only see him express these thoughts in short blurbs with only hints as to what he is really going through, his attitude feels stereotypical and shallow.

“Five Feet Apart” does a decent job bringing attention and awareness to CF and provides the viewer with a realistic view of the treatment. The subdued tones provide the setting for a movie that is filled with predictable plot points and a lot of cheesy, cliche lines. But that is exactly what it promised to be: montages set to indie music about illnesses and a constant reminder that we need “human touch almost as much as the air we breathe.”

Email Yaroslava Bondar at [email protected]

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