If you thought Romeo and Juliet were reckless, wait until you get a load of these two.
Enjoying Five Feet Apart (2019) was always going to be an uphill battle for me. For starters, the movie stars Cole Sprouse. Since taking on the role of Jughead on Riverdale (2017 – present), I’ve found the actor utterly intolerable both onscreen and off. Secondly, in the vein of movies like The Fault in Our Stars (2014), Everything, Everything (2017), and Midnight Sun (2018), the romantic-drama focuses on two ailing teenagers who refuse to let their illnesses keep them from being together. Before I even entered the theatre, I felt uneasy and concerned of how the movie would handle its delicate subject matter, hoping that it would be tasteful and not farcical. Still, I’ve endured worse things than unfavourable actors and potentially insensitive plotlines when doing these reviews. So, holding onto hope, me and the two other people in the theatre settled in to watch Five Feet Apart. You read that correctly. There were only two other people in the whole theatre. Not exactly a reassuring sign, right?
Based on the novel of the same name by Rachael Lippincott, Five Feet Apart tells the story of Stella and Will, two cystic fibrosis patients living in the same hospital. Though CF patients are strictly instructed to keep six feet apart to avoid the risk of cross-infection, Stella and Will are drawn to each other and disobey their nurses in order to spend time together.
This movie is a problematic, tonally confused, piece of garbage. It downplays the severity of real, life-threatening illnesses, to cash in on the abhorrent trend of tragedy porn. Romanticizing the struggles that people coping with CF endure on a daily basis, the movie essentially tells viewers that it’s okay to disregard your doctor’s strict orders if you think a boy is cute and mysterious.
In case you were wondering, no, I did not care for this movie.
For the record, my grievances with this film are not because it tells the story of two people living with cystic fibrosis. Far from it. Representation is important and having a romance movie that portrays the realities of CF is a huge step towards diversity and visibility. However, what I DO have a problem with is the way that Five Feet Apart misinterprets those realities and ignores the precautions that CF patients must follow to keep themselves healthy. Multiple times during Five Feet Apart, you get the sense that director Justin Baldoni is attempting to shed light on the issues and complications that come with having CF. For the most part he succeeds, but for every piece of valid information the movie offers, it is quickly undermined by a ludicrous misrepresentation of what is and isn’t recommended for CF patients. For example, though Will has a highly contagious infection called B. cepacia, Stella decides to break the six feet apart rule and “steal back one foot,” now standing five feet apart from him. Get it?
Medical professionals have since criticized the movie, and stated that the rule really is six feet apart and CF patients should adhere to it. I appreciate that this movie was trying to have a, “don’t let disease stop you from living a full life,” message, but really what I got from it was, “ignoring doctor’s orders and gambling with your life is fine if you really wanna hang out with someone you met a week ago.” Seeing how reckless Stella and Will are towards rules that are in place to KEEP THEM ALIVE, I found myself caring less and less about their relationship and actively rooting against them.
Let’s take a break from everything that was wrong with this movie and take a second to acknowledge what was undoubtedly its best part: Haley Lu Richardson. In a movie that is consistently frantic, frustrating, and factually-inaccurate, Richardson is a shining beacon of stability. As Stella, she endows the character with a sense of realism, ensuring that each movement and expression is one that a regular teenage girl would make. Compassionate, organized, and strong, Richardson portrays Stella’s best qualities in a way that is relatable and entertaining. When the movie begins to veer off course into territory that will have you smacking your head against a wall, rest assured that Richardson’s powerful and moving performance is the light at the end of the tunnel. I was genuinely hoping that health-wise, things worked out for our plucky protagonist.
Enter Cole Sprouse. As the artistic and edgy Will, who inexplicably agrees to take his medication on the promise that Stella will let him draw her, Sprouse turns in a perfectly adequate performance. The movie tried really hard to make his character charming and quirky, but it really just came off as creepy. He repeatedly mentions how quickly he and Stella are dying despite her asking him to stop, wants to draw her sweat after a workout even though she wants to take a shower first, and rents out his hospital bed to his friends who are looking for a place to have sex. I audibly groaned multiple times.
While the chemistry between Richardson and Sprouse is fine, I had a hard time believing their relationship because of how poorly the movie brings them together. They literally have conflicting personalities and nothing in common besides CF. However, because they’re both the same age and in the same place at the same time, the movie pushes them together in a love story that feels forced and unnatural. Also, can we talk for a second about how Stella is allegedly the main character, but her whole narrative revolves around making Will feel better and taking care of him? And he pretty much does nothing in return for her? I was so much more interested in Stella that I wanted more time to explore the things that make her who she is. She developed an app! We don’t get to see her build that but we have to watch Will draw a shitty sketch of her? I was upset.
The dialogue in this move is truly atrocious. Five Feet Apart is definitely one of those movies that when watching it with your friends, you pause it every eight seconds to laugh at the absurdity of the lines, their contradiction of earlier information, or how horrifically cheesy, manipulative and unbelievable they are. That being said, when this movie becomes available for streaming, I’m totally down to get drunk and watch it with a close group of friends. That’s probably the only way I’d ever re-watch this movie.
I realize that I’m being extremely hard on this movie. I’m sorry, but it was just so poorly made. By all means, I encourage you to see the movie and share with me if you genuinely liked it. However, from having seen it myself, I certainly wouldn’t recommend this movie to anyone who is looking to have an entertaining movie-going experience. If you find enjoyment in medical contradictions, unfathomably terrible decision-making, and pretentious lines like, “you need to lighten up, it’s just life. It’ll be over before you know it,” and “we don’t have time for delicacy Stella, we’re dying,” you may end up liking this movie.
Additionally, if you’re someone who finds pleasure in watching a movie that is 85 per cent Apple product placement set to melancholy music playing over sad montages, than Five Feet Apart may just be the movie for you.
Honestly, I would have much rather watched a movie starring Barb, the nurse who is forced to deal with these inconsiderate kids who undermine her job of keeping them alive just because they think they’re in a Nicholas Sparks novel.
Will you see Five Feet Apart? Did you see it and like it?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!