Too Many Overused Cliches Keeps Teen Romance Movie at a Distance.
DIRECTED BY JUSTIN BALDONI / 2019
Lemme just talk about the snow for a moment. There’s a sequence, late in the film, where two characters have left the safe confines of the hospital and are walking together through a snowy park. The trouble is this is the worst looking fake snow I have ever seen. It doesn’t look like snow, it doesn’t act like snow. It more resembles a pale grey sand than it does frozen water particles, and I bet it was coarse and rough and got everywhere. Not helping sell the illusion was the fact that on such a cold and snowy evening, you didn’t see the character’s breaths. The whole sequence is so obviously shot on a soundstage (presumably in Louisiana?) that it really could’ve taken me right out of the movie at any moment.
Of course the real problem is that I wasn’t into the movie that much in the first place.
I don’t want to be critical of Five Feet Apart, I really don’t. I don’t want to be critical of any movie, believe it or not, but Five Feet Apart is so earnest in its depiction of life with a debilitating disease, and young love, and hope in the face of our mortality, and true friendship that I feel terrible for not liking it. But honestly, aside from its production values (except for that furshlugginer snow!), and the acting by its leads, Five Feet Apart never rises above the level of a typical After School Special.
If it seems cliche that I refer to Five Feet Apart as an After School Special, that’s quite all right since cliche is this movie’s thing. Oh look, there’s a girl who deals with her situation by being a control freak! Oh look, there’s the guy she falls in love with who responds by rebelling! Oh look, there’s someone with a tragic backstory (that is, more tragedy on top of having Cystic Fibrosis)! Oh look, there’s the gay best friend! And on and on.
Five Feet Apart never rises above the level of a typical After School Special.
Our lead pair of star-crossed lovers are played by Haley Lu Richardson (Split, Support the Girls) and Cole Sprouse (Riverdale– where he plays… Jughead? Jeez, it’s been a long time since I’ve read any Archie comics!). They are both teens living with the aforementioned Cystic Fibrosis, which if you don’t already know is a genetic disorder which affects the lungs, causing a buildup of thick mucus in airways. People with CF are also more susceptible to lung infections, and as a result patients need to keep at least 6 feet apart from one another to avoid spreading disease. When Stella (Richardson) and Will (Sprouse) meet, get over their initial annoyance with each other and start to fall in love, that 6 feet of distance starts to feel pretty darn large.
Richardson and Sprouse both do really good work here, and sell their whirlwind romance, as well as all the pain and heartache that tends to come with it. You start to really feel for these kids and want them to succeed- then the movie goes and clumsily trots out another well-worn trope, and we’re right back out again.
I wish a little more thought and care went into its story
But I keep thinking that I’m being too much of a curmudgeon for not giving myself over to what Five Feet Apart is doing. It’s wearing its heart on its sleeve so much. But I wish a little more thought and care went into its story so as to show us something new as opposed to a slight variation of so much of what has come before. Perhaps if I was more of a romantic, or maybe if I was someone who was dealing with a genetic disorder that gave me excessive mucus build-up instead of laser-eyes, this would probably be my catnip.
A side-note: I don’t know how realistic its depiction of life with CF is. The filmmakers worked closely with a charity that supports families dealing with the disease, so they no doubt worked hard to make sure the details were correct. Still in all likelihood its portrayal has the normal day-to-day drama cranked up to 11, as Hollywood does with all things.