‘Five Feet Apart’ delivers powerful teen drama mixed with imaginative comedy

Parker Otto

There are films which are beyond predictable with a plot containing zero surprises. Thankfully, “Five Feet Apart” is not that kind of film. Instead, it’s a film about life in the face of death and about an undying love despite significant obstacles.

The film centers on Stella, played by Haley Lu Richardson, who suffers from the lung disease cystic fibrosis. While in the hospital for a drug test, she encounters fellow patient Will, played by Cole Sprouse. The two become friends and fall in love but, due to the nature of their disease, they can not be within six feet of each other otherwise they risk dying.

Haley Lu Richardson is no stranger to teenage dramedies having starred in 2016’s “The Edge of Seventeen” as the best friend of Hailee Steinfeld’s protagonist. In this film, Richardson is able to show her full dramatic capabilities as a terminal patient. The best parts of her performance are often without dialogue and are from her facial expressions. One scene sees her verbally incapacitated by a breathing tube leading her eyes to tell the audience what is occuring.

She has a need to control everything which is understandable given how much she needs to do to stay in good shape. This obsession with health leads her to Will who is the opposite with a negative aspect on the disease and the two decide to take treatments together.

Will’s characterization is good excluding his first ten minutes on screen. When they first meet, Stella sees him as a nonconformist but he never does anything that rebellious. All he does is not take treatments. Randall McMurphy he ain’t. Thankfully, he grows up quick and is more likeable for the rest of the film. He is shown to be a fine artist and creates beautiful drawings which are visual metaphors for the plot at hand. In this instance, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The romance between the pair is fantastic with more chemistry than The Manhattan Project. The film gets creative with romantic gestures including on the first date of Stella and Will. Using a pool cue to keep their distance, the pair grab the ends to mimic holding hands and then Stella puts her end on her shoulder to seem like Will is putting his hand there. This kind of imagery successfully pushes the theme how love can survive any distance no matter how small.

A relatively small supporting cast populates the film including a fellow patient named Poe, played by Moises Arias, who makes a hilarious triangle of friendship with Stella and Will. Kimberly Hebert Gregory also gives a grounded performance as nurse Barb who assists the patients with their day to day medication. Both give the film a wider range of drama and serve an integral part of the protagonist’s lives.

The film was made for seven million dollars, according to Variety, and is mostly set in one location. This confinement works to the film’s advantage by showing the characters always in close proximity, as long as it’s five feet or more, of each other thus building their relationship. Even though the setting is this one hospital, there are many wings and rooms to give the location a complicated personality. Some rooms are intimate spots while others are large places for the cast to gather.

No film is perfect and the biggest sin of “Five Feet Apart” is how it tries to cram much more drama than needed into its third act. Thankfully, it doesn’t tarnish the ending or the first two acts but some plot could have been cut to make a more evenly toned film. The third act, despite its faults, is refreshing with the film taking new directions with the plot instead of staying similar to films like “The Notebook” or “The Fault In Our Stars.”

“Five Feet Apart” is a film with highs and lows but the message of how to love life and others rings true throughout. Richardson leads this film with Sprouse to create a personal story of love with no manipulation or dull cliches but with the right touch of humanity.