Five Feet Apart
by George Wolf
Haley Lu Richardson is a very talented young actress. Director Justin Baldoni seems to have very good intentions. Neither can save Five Feet Apart from crawling through the heap of Young Adult angst as the unholy love child of Nicholas Sparks and Lars von Trier.
Richardson is Stella, an optimistic cystic fibrosis patient who vlogs about her experiences with an encouraging smile. Hospitalized for a new drug trial, she meets fellow “CF’er” Will, a dreamboat with an attitude and a darker prognosis.
Fears of bacteria bring strict orders for Stella and Will to always remain at least six feet apart. But when love blooms…..
Stories of young forbidden love have been sprouting since the Capulets and Montagues, but the biggest surprise in Five Feet Apart is that it didn’t start as a YA novel. Screenwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis wear the hats, here, working through as many formulaic and manipulative opportunities as possible.
Though many health care issues are conveniently skirted, some honest moments about the struggles of CF patients find a mark, thanks mainly to some warm chemistry between Richardson (Columbus, The Edge of Seventeen, Split) and Sprouse (Big Daddy, TV’s Riverdale). But as the overly orchestrated suffering continues to mount, the entire CF storyline starts smelling of the easiest path to teenage tears.
Baldoni, whose My Last Days web series benefits a variety of charities, may have his heart in the right place. And there is certainly talent in this cast, which Richardson leans on to deliver the line “Thank you for saying something real!” without a trace of irony.
But the boxes for plaintive music, closing narration, and the gay best friend are all checked. Plus, the life lessons that are dictated to us because that’s easier than building a story that resonates strongly enough to let us realize things on our own. So much YA drama is anchored by this cheap enlightenment, and there is plenty here to wallow in.
So depending on your side of that fence, the bar may have been raised. Or lowered.
But Haley Lu, though.