Five Feet Apart is a romantic drama about two teenagers, Stella Grant (Haley Richardson) and Will Newman (Cole Sprouse), with cystic fibrosis (CF) who fall madly in love, The Fault In Our Stars-style.
Stella is a cheerful patient who describes herself as “clinically OCD” and takes pride in following a strict treatment schedule as she waits for a lung transplant. Her regimented routine, however, is thrown into disarray when she meets fellow CF patient Will Newman.
Unlike Stella, Will is cavalier about taking his medicine, even though his life depends on it. With a “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” sign hanging on his ward door, Will has given up on life.
Although there is a spark between the two, they clash over Will’s fatalistic attitude about his condition – he’s struck off the lung transplant list after being tested positive for a dangerous bacteria, and is on a new drug trial.
The pair becomes friends as Stella convinces Will to take his treatment schedule seriously in exchange for allowing him to sketch her, and friendship soon turns into love. But as with terminal romance stories, there is a catch. CF patients can cross infect each other, so Stella and Will cannot be within six feet of one another.
Based on the popular YA novel by Rachael Lippincott, the title Five Feet Apart refers to the couple rebelling against the six feet rule so they can walk together by holding a five feet pool cue between them. And of course, they end up breaking that rule too.
The plot is slow at times, and while Five Feet Apart may have started out as a well-intended film on CF and the struggles patients face to have a normal life, the narrative quickly goes on a downward spiral with its fixation on the teens’ blooming romance, and their condition even seems irrelevant to the storyline at times. The predictable plot twists may even make some question the irresponsible decisions the couple make, instead of rooting for them.
The excessive use of philosophical quotes about the meaning of life and death throughout also make the dialogue forceful and pretentious. And sadly, Richardson and Sprouse’s charming on-screen chemistry is just not enough to save the weak storyline.
Five Feet Apart may appeal to diehard fans of romantic teen dramas, but on the whole, it is a forgettable film that fails to match up to many others in the same genre.