The teen-romance drama film is a genre that has been seen time and time again. Most commonly, these stories are adapted from popular young adult novels by authors like John Green. “Five Feet Apart” differs from other teen-romance dramas, since it originated as a screenplay even before it was a novel. The story draws similarities to the stories “The Fault In Our Stars” and “Everything, Everything” while managing to provide a unique take on a played out genre.
“Five Feet Apart” is the story of a relationship between two teenage cystic fibrosis patients. The film follows Stella, a 17-year-old cystic fibrosis patient and vlogger who is strict and obsessive over her daily treatments. Her life changes when she meets Will, a rule-breaking patient who rarely follows his medical routine.
Cystic fibrosis patients have a rule of remaining six feet apart from each other in order to prevent cross infection, which could be further damaging to the existing condition. Stella is waiting to receive a lung transplant, while Will has tested positive for a dangerous bacteria called B. cepacia, making potential cross infection more dangerous for Stella’s future.
The two develop a relationship as Stella aims to use her organizational skills to get Will to follow his treatment more carefully. As the two spend time together, their relationship intensifies, and they help each other grow as individuals. With their condition preventing them from physical contact, the story forces people to question whether these two teenagers can really be together.
Going into the film, viewers may have low expectations for yet another forbidden-love teen-romance drama. However, “Five Feet Apart” puts forth an impressive display as it presents a story that exceeds the constraints of the genre. This is primarily due to the performance of Haley Lu Richardson, previously seen in “Columbus”and “Edge of Seventeen,” who portrays Stella in the film. Richardson shines in the role, bringing a charisma to Stella in a role that could have easily become a forgettable character within the formulaic genre.
Richardson’s chemistry is impressive with co-stars Cole Sprouse (“Riverdale,” “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody”) and Moises Arias (“The Kings of Summer,” “Hannah Montana”), who portray Will and Stella’s long time friend Poe, respectively. Sprouse and Arias have showed that they are much more than their Disney roots by bringing emotion to their roles. Despite being an overall impressive display, it is occasionally evident that Sprouse has spent recent years on a CW teen drama, with hints of “Riverdale”-level acting peeking through in his performance.
In a film surrounding the topic of an illness such as cystic fibrosis, there is concern of medical accuracy and risking romanticism. Those concerns can be put to rest with director Justin Baldoni. Baldoni, most commonly known for his acting role on the television show “Jane the Virgin,” previously created a documentary series covering the lives of individuals with terminal illnesses. One of the subjects of the documentary series was Claire Wineland, a Youtuber who suffered from cystic fibrosis and served as a consultant to the film prior to her passing. While the film could certainly lack in accuracy, it is refreshing to find a director who has put in the work to be educated about the conditions they wish to portray on screen.
“Five Feet Apart” is a film that can be enjoyed by viewers who know what to expect: if someone walks in anticipating an Oscar worthy film, they can expect to be disappointed. But if one intends on viewing a cheesy teen romantic drama, they will find themselves pleasantly surprised with a film that exceeds expectations. Despite the film concluding with a chaotic third act, “Five Feet Apart” presents a compelling story as the young cast provides tear-jerking, heartbreaking and comical moments. Baldoni’s film sheds light on cystic fibrosis, a topic that deserves greater recognition.