Five Feet Apart

This movie is like Eighth Grade meets Everything, Everything. Remember that movie from a few years ago, where a girl can’t leave her house because she’ll immediately get sick and die — so she pines for the boy she’s seen living in her neighborhood for 16 years. And remember in Eighth Grade how the girl makes goofy blogs about her life and how to be more confident? Well in this movie, 17-year-old Stella Grant (the 24-year-old Haley Lu Richardson) makes videos about what life is like living with cystic fibrosis.

Stella seems to be coping well. Her friends show up in her hospital room, with burgers and fries. They talk about guys, wearing sexy outfits, and the usual girl stuff. Yet when new patient Will Newman (Cole Sprouse, looking exactly like Nat Wolff or one of the teen boys we see in these other YA films) shows up, she starts to really realize how bad her life is. She can’t go through the normal route of developing a crush on a boy and having her first kiss, because…patients with CF can’t be within 6-feet of each other (it’s a really cute video Stella makes to show why with her, it’s going to be 5-feet).

At first she’s turned off by his confidence, and the fact that he lets his friends hook up in his hospital room. Yet he does that one thing that’s so often done in movies to get the girl — he draws. So, his artistic abilities help win her over, and a romance is born. Of course, he insists on drawing her. Don’t they always?

Nurse Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), is the tough one with a heart of gold, who has to remind them about the virulent bacteria that they could give each other if they’re too close.

Writers Tobias Iaconis and Mikki Daughtry based this true story on what inspired them to write The Fault in Our Stars. And it’s going to attract the same crowds that flocked to that teen romance.

Surprisingly, the cast almost makes this movie bearable. Richardson, who was so great in The Edge of Seventeen, and one of the few things good about Support the Girls, is very likable in this. Even if we can’t completely buy into all her little quirks (she’s a control freak, with borderline OCD).

Sprouse does the usual bad boy schtick required for these rebellious teen characters.

Moises Arias, who I loved in The Kings of Summer six years ago, and in Ender’s Game, was good in this movie but his character isn’t the least bit believable. He’s Stella’s best friend Poe, and he also suffers from CF. We’re supposed to believe that he and Stella can just go anywhere they want in the hospital. Oh, and that he’s gay and has had numerous boyfriends, none of which have worked out. Really? Where is he meeting all these guys, his age, in the hospital? That doesn’t mean I didn’t shed a tear when he tries to comfort Stella in one scene by saying, “You’re my best friend, and I want to hug you right now, but I can’t.”

This is the feature debut for director Justin Baldoni. He does an adequate job with the material. Many of the ways the camera pans back, or gives us scenes that are surprisingly romantic given the hospital settings (an atrium, swimming pool, game room, cafeteria). It’s just a shame that Baldoni felt the need to check every box in this formulaic picture. It would’ve been more interesting had it not been so predictable and manipulative. And seriously, what do these directors think when they throw in all these goofy songs? The teens can’t possibly like watching something that feels like a cheesy music video or Afterschool Special.

In 1951, the teenage girls loved hearing Marlon Brando yell “Stella!” in A Streetcar Named Desire. I’m sure in 2019, the teen girls will love hearing Sprouse yell “Stella” as his girlfriend….well, I probably shouldn’t spoil why he yells her name.

The ending was so over-the-top and unrealistic. It reminded me of how much better a similar ending was in the amazing Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. But, that doesn’t mean I didn’t also cry watching it.

My wife hated the movie more than I did, but…despite it moving me at times, I can’t give it higher than a 1 ½ out of 5 stars. I’m guessing teens will give this 4 stars.

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