Five Feet Apart (2019)
Director: Justin Baldoni
Cast: Cole Sprouse, Haley Lu Richardson, Claire Forlani
Synopsis: A pair of teenagers with life-threatening illnesses meet in a hospital and fall in love.
Genre: Drama, Romance
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, language, and suggestive material)
Runtime: 1 hr 56 min
Release Date: March 15, 2019
The thought of our own mortality and the finality of life is oftentimes an uncomfortable, yet motivating idea for us as humans, for we know we're only on this earth for a set period of time--a time that seems to increasingly dissipate the older we get. There was a quote I read the other day that went along the lines of "Would you rather have millions of dollars and be 88 years old, or virtually no money and be 20 years old?" It points to the value and luxury of time--how, without it, we simply don't live--our experiences in their entirety are over, there are no more chances to better ourselves or others around us. All that's left is our legacy.
You probably read the one sentence synopsis at the top of the page, rolled your eyes and thought the same thing I did before walking into the theater--I've seen this before. And yes, for the most part, you have seen it before. Five Feet Apart tells the story of two teenagers, Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will (Cole Sprouse) with cystic fibrosis--a terminal illness that effectively puts a very short amount of time on their life clock. When they cross paths, Stella, a positive soul, learns that Will is essentially waiting for his death, going as far as neglecting to take his medications. So, with the time she has left, Stella makes it her personal goal to change Will's attitude and outlook on life, and--yes--they fall for each other in the process.
The most negative aspect about Five Feet Apart is how it tries so hard to cater to its teenage target audience. The romance is overly sentimental, and several lines--most of which are given to Sprouse, are painfully corny and hinder what could've been genuinely good romantic scenes. There are also several plot elements that don't make realistic sense--like the over extended living freedom given to both Stella and Will in the hospital. These elements, obviously meant to serve the narrative, ultimately disservice it by disconnecting it from reality.
The young Haley Lu Richardson is ultimately what holds the film together. The up and coming actress gives her finest performance to date, one that could've nabbed her an Oscar nomination had the film been given a later release date and perhaps been based on a true story. She's funny, charming, bold, and heartbreaking to watch all at once. The film is told from her perspective and she's our protagonist, but interestingly (and refreshingly) she's given a flat character arc. Instead, it's Will's ideas that shift, thanks to Stella. It's a move that actually works well and makes for a satisfying conclusion by the film's end.
The other element besides Richardson's performance that keeps the film afloat is its ideas on mortality and the value of time and life. Rarely before have I sat through a film and contemplated my own limited lifetime as much as I did through Five Feet Apart. Part of this is attributed to the film's subtly moving score from Brian Tyler and Breton Vivian, as well as a solid soundtrack. But it also stems from memorable scenes depicting real human moments, like the joy of making snow angels or the beauty of seeing city lights at night.
Five Feet Apart, in spite of its near relentless attempt to pander to its infatuated teen audience, still manages to succeed in a more compelling way by forcing us to step back and enjoy the moments we've been given. Because, in the grand scheme of time spanning thousands upon thousands of years, our life is but a moment--a blink--and one that we dare not waste.
Written by Anthony Watkins, March 21, 2019