The teen film and young adult genres often get overlooked and are seen as cheap films for teenage girls, but time to time they produce decade defying hits - ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘Ferris Bueller's Day Off’, ‘Clueless’, ‘10 Things I Hate About You’, ‘Mean Girls’ - the list goes on. In 2008 when ‘Twilight’ hit the screens, Hollywood turned its eyes to supernatural romance - and then it turned dystopian when ‘The Hunger Games’ began in 2012. But when 2014’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ debuted onto our screens, it not only brought romance back to forefront of the teen film, it brought along a new trend - “sick teens”. Since then, nothing has really reached the emotional resonance (I will always be a mess after watching 'Fault in Our Stars') of that film. ‘Me Before You’, ‘If I Stay’ (it’s hurts just to even say the name of this appalling film) and ‘Everything, Everything’ all evoke more tears of anger than sadness in me. Last year saw comedy come back to teen romance with ‘Love, Simon’ and Netflix's ‘To All the Boys I Love Before’ - but cut to 2019, and ‘Five Feet Apart’ is here to prove “sick teens” is still a genre audiences flock to.
‘Five Feet Apart’ follows Stella (Haley Lu Richardson, ‘Split’, ‘The Edge of Seventeen’), an OCD teenager who lives her life for her treatment. She is extremely positive considering her circumstance, living with cystic fibrosis. When she stubbles across Will (Cole Sprouse, TV's ‘Riverdale’ and ‘The Suite Life of Zack and Cody’) - who also has the same disease but unlike Stella doesn’t like to play by the rules - and she starts to find not only love but a new outlook on life.
Haley Lu Richardson proves once again how talented she is, oozing charisma and just lighting up the screen; a lot of the demographic will instantly connect with her. Cole Sprouse is really just playing Jughead - not much of an acting stretch for him, so there's not much to say about his performance. The surprise performance for me was from fellow Disney Channel actor Moises Arias (TVs ‘Hannah Montana’, ‘Pitch Perfect 3’). He plays Poe, a fellow teenager with CF who has grown up with Stella who is gay, and it was nice to see that not played for points but just as who he is and not a defining factor. He is no longer that weird kid in ‘The Kings of Summer’; Arias has some acting chops in him. Poe is definitely the sickest of the three, and that’s where a lot of the film's emotional weight lies for the first two acts. While Stella and Will’s parents are in the film, they make extremely little impact - that sentence just gave them more attention than the entire film. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Kimberly Hebert Gregory (TV's ‘Kevin (Probably) Saves the World’ and ‘Craig of the Creek’) as Nurse Barb who fills both the comedy relief role and like the one who keep the kids apart. Then we have Parminder Nagra (‘Bend it like Beckham’, ‘Bird Box’) as Dr Noor Hamid, and that’s basically her whole character simply just being the doctor.
‘Five Feet Apart’ very clearly wants to be the next ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, while it will make its core demographic cry and does have some fantastic performances, it fails in its messy structure and genetic narrative.
You may be thinking that this film is based on a book, but in a little bit of trickery, a novelisation was released late last year with “Now a major motion picture” blasted across the top; just found that a very interesting marketing technique. It’s interesting to note this as the film definitely has structural issues, some of the scenes particularly in the first act feel like those fan-service moments a lot of these films have, but since the script came first it’s a little strange.
The structure of the film is a little all over the place. Within the first 20 minutes we have two arguments between our leads. Their first meeting is simply Stella walking past Will and she basically straight away gives him the “you don’t follow the rules, do you?” speech and he literally hasn’t said a single word to her. Their second encounter is him sitting on the rooftop and Stella sees that as him wanting die - so yet again he gets a lecture about taking life for granted, which seems like a speech for the third act. They don’t actually fall in love until halfway through act two; that should have been moved to the end of act one and then the second and third acts rearranged a little. The film also needs 20 minutes cut out, and another 20 minutes put back in. When they do finally get together it's really cute, their dates are adorable and tug at the heart strings in all the right ways.
Now, the third act. So if you’ve seen the film ‘Me Before You’, you know how problematic the ending gets; it’s so bad that it actually ruined the whole film. ‘Five Feet Apart’ almost gets to that level, but it’s a much better movie. For the most part, the film is following the symptoms and rules of cystic fibrosis. The only one it really breaks in the six feet apart rule, but that’s fine with the reasoning the movie gives for their romance - but once the third act hits, everything changes. I don’t want to spoil things, but the film gets really lazy here, and any emotion they are trying to get you to feel just gets ripped away. The third act for some strange reason takes place on a frozen pond (a la ‘The Snowman’ and ‘Riverdale’) and it’s just very manufactured what happens there to get the ending the film wants. There is no reason to raze the stakes this way; it just makes it more difficult and convoluted. With some of the things that happen, the repercussions aren’t dealt with - they can all be summed up with, “it was a miracle, we just can’t explain it.” For all the problems I have with the third act, the final scene of the film is quite beautiful and a very nice emotional ending to go out with.
‘Five Feet Apart’ very clearly wants to be the next ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, right down to stealing some of its soundtrack. While it will make its core demographic cry and does have some fantastic performances, it fails with its messy structure and genetic narrative.