Reel Talk: ‘Five Feet Apart’

March 16, 2019 GMT

By Pam Powell

How do you make a story about cystic fibrosis a romantic and entertaining one? You don’t. At least “Five Feet Apart,” co-written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis and directed by Justin Baldoni, couldn’t.

Even the angelic and All-American girl-next-door appearance of Haley Lu Richardson (“The Edge of Seventeen”) and the cool, hipster look of Cole Sprouse (“Riverdale”) wasn’t enough to create an engaging story for anyone older than 12.

Here’s the premise of the film: Two young people meet during a long-term stay at a hospital because of complications from CF and fall in love. There’s a familiar tone in the film reminiscent of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” but this film isn’t close to “Earl” on an entertainment or emotional level and makes “Fault” look like Oscar material.


Stella (Richardson) is an upbeat, brilliant, organized young girl who puts on a good show for her friends as they ready themselves to attend a huge event she has planned but now cannot attend. She’s everyone’s light, and she’s determined to live, but her reasons for doing so are not what you think.

As she gets to know and give hope to young Will (Sprouse), who has his own issues, she reveals her inner guilt and begins to bond with him. This bond is much to Nurse Barb’s (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) chagrin as she knows two CF patients having any contact could result in lethal consequences. The rule is staying 6 feet apart, but Stella and Will are changing the rules and living — 5 feet apart.

The premise of “Five Feet Apart” is sweet, syrupy sweet, as we are forced to create an emotional connection to these two characters. It doesn’t work. Not even the sappy music and long shots of the main characters’ faces can make it work. Both Richardson and Sprouse do their best in the role, but the substance just isn’t there. There’s just not enough to sink their teeth into to make it entertaining.

The emotional peaks intermittently placed in the film feel forced, and the overall scope is nothing more than a Hollywood set — everything evoking a sense of artificiality.

The saving graces of the film come in the form of Gregory’s performance of Nurse Barb and Moises Arias as Poe. Their added levity and more genuine portrayals connected you to these characters, but alas, they weren’t a big enough part of the film’s story to save it. The slow pace, repetitive situations and obvious set ups made it painfully contrived, eliciting many glances at my watch.


However, this film does bring to light a chronic, progressive genetic disorder affecting 70,000 people worldwide. It’s a devastating disease that, in many ways, is accurately portrayed in the film. If you know someone with this disease, it will give you a better understanding of what they might be going through and living with.

On the other hand, the film seems to have a misconception of germs, a huge part of the film, as any respiratory illness could be a death sentence. Ironically, the film shows the “kids” working out at a gym — not a stellar idea. And hanging out in hospital lobbies — again, not a good idea. Having a CF patient prepare food? The list goes on, but it is a movie, and suspension of belief is imperative in this one. I won’t even begin to critique the medical cart and nursing protocol.

For as many things as they got right about this disorder, it seems they could have paid more attention to the obvious things a lay person would question.

“Five Feet Apart” is a heavy-handed and forced romantic drama that may lure in young teens, but is sure to lull adults to sleep. Stiff performances from most of the cast, cliche situations and a stilted story make this film worth skipping.

1 Star