In Justin Baldoni’s “Sick-Lit” inspired new film Five Feet Apart, Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen, Columbus) and Cole Sprouse (Riverdale) star as two teenagers suffering from Cystic-Fibrosis who fall madly in love despite never being able to come closer than, you’ve guessed it, five feet within one another. Written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, the film presents a jarringly formulaic plot which will require a fair amount of suspension of disbelieve to even contemplate going with it.
Stella (Richardson) likes to be in control, having lived with Cystic-Fibrosis, a disease which has been slowly destroying her lungs since childhood, the teenager has learnt that discipline and doing what the doctors have ordered is the only way she can survive long enough until a lung donor comes along. When she is hospitalised for the umpteenth time to help her get ever a recent bout of illness, Stella meets Will (Sprouse), the new rebellious CF patient who seems to care very little about his own recovery and even less about hospital rules.
At first, Stella is exasperated by Will’s lack of discipline and apparent lack of motivation, but with time the two become inseparable. Despite never being able to touch or even holds hands due to Will’s highly infectious version of the disease, the two fall madly in love with one another and soon start spending every waking hour together.
Baldoni offers a deeply flawed film which, despite getting most of the information about CF right, still fails to ring true by offering an overly melodramatic, trope-heavy and a decidedly cringeworthy mushy romance narrative. And while there are moments which work more than others, Five Feet Apart sadly fails to successfully breakaway from the usual YA terminal illness fodder which, let’s face it, has been done better and with greater conviction by films like The Fault In Our Stars (Josh Boone, 2014), or even the often flawed Everything Everything (Stella Meghie, 2017).
Despite the film’s inability to stray too far from its predictable premise, there’s no denying that both Sprouse and Richardson manage two fine performances as two star-crossed lovers unable to live together or apart. And even if they are ultimately let down by the film’s lack of imagination and a truly abysmal dialogue, they are both still able to put in heart and soul into the story. Elsewhere, Moises Arias (Ender’s Game) is relied upon to bring some much needed comic relief as Stella’s gay best friend Poe, while the brilliant Kimberly Hebert Gregory (Better Call Saul) is saddled with the stereotypical part of strict and portly nurse Barb who is eventually won over by young love.
Overall, Five Feet Apart does perhaps less than what is expected from it, and in the end fails to capitalise on the popularity of these types of narratives with a growing army of teenage fans. A flawed and deeply contrived story about an impossible love which adds almost nothing to the current trend for Sick-Lit adaptations.