“Five Feet Apart” shines with romance and melancholy


“Five Feet Apart” details the struggles of cystic fibrosis. Photo courtesy of IMDb.

Grace Burwell, TidePod Editor

If you’ve seen the latest heartbreaking, teen romance film, “Five Feet Apart,” it was probably impossible not to cry. The intense, tear-jerking portrayals of two teens with cystic fibrosis who meet in a hospital and fall in love is well worth the watch, but definitely an emotional journey. The movie, which hit theaters on March 15, was directed by Justin Baldoni, best known for his role as Rafael Solano on “Jane the Virgin,” and features Cole Sprouse (“Riverdale”) and Haley Lu Richardson (“The Edge of Seventeen”) as Will Newman and Stella Grant, two teens with cystic fibrosis.

While Stella has an incredibly controlling approach towards managing her disease, Will is the polar opposite. Stella has a YouTube channel where she regularly documents her struggles with CF, and Will is taking part in a clinical trial to help cure a bacterial infection in his lungs but refuses to take medication to try and treat the infection. Will is also an artist, but his depressed, cynical attitude towards life starts to agitate Stella, who also has OCD. So, the two strike a deal – they will do their treatments together so Stella can make sure Will is taking his medication under one condition: Stella has to let Will draw her. This leads to the pair becoming closer and closer, eventually falling for each other. Although “Five Feet Apart” may seem romantic and sweet, there are dark moments, such as when Stella’s fellow friend with CF, Poe, played by Moises Arias, gets rapidly ill.

“Five Feet Apart” is being compared to similar movies such as “The Fault In Our Stars,” which documents the love story of two teenagers with cancer. While the expected clichés are present in “Five Feet Apart,” the movie stands out from other teen romance flicks. The emotions portrayed by Sprouse and Richardson are tangible and nuanced, and Will and Stella’s story is only amplified by their inability to be close to each other. Additionally, Richardson’s portrayal of her character is heightened through Stella’s struggles with mental illness and the death of her sister, Abby, whom Stella was the closest with.

“Five Feet Apart” ends with one of Stella’s YouTube videos reflecting on her relationship with Will. Cystic fibrosis is truly a limiting disease, Stella explains, because everyone craves human touch, and patients with CF can’t even get within six feet of each other, let alone touch or embrace. This becomes a challenge if a person with CF happens to become friends with—or even falls in love with—another “CF-er.” Stella and Will’s relationship exemplifies this struggle, which is the reality of thousands of CF patients every day.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes mucus to clog airways in the lungs, which limits breathing. Though the disease only affects fewer than 200,000 people a year, the life expectancy for people with CF is very short. The buzz surrounding “Five Feet Apart” is partially due to its title. People with CF are not allowed to be within six feet of each other due to a risk of contaminating bacteria, and in “Five Feet Apart” Stella and Will break this rule to be another foot closer to each other. In many scenes, they carry a five-foot-long pool cue between them to distance each other, but also to hold hands by proxy.

Audiences have had mixed reactions to “Five Feet Apart.” The movie earned a 53% score on Rotten Tomatoes, 52% on Metacritic, and a 7.2/10 rating on IMDB. Despite negative reviews, many in the CF community have praised the movie for realistically portraying the burdens of living with cystic fibrosis and bringing awareness to the disease. This portrayal comes in part from a connection with a cystic fibrosis patient, Claire Wineland, who was a source of inspiration for the film. Though Wineland passed away in September of 2018, director Justin Baldoni brought aspects of her life to the big screen in “Five Feet Apart.” For example, Wineland was the one who told Baldoni about the ‘six-foot rule’ for CF patients that later became the trademark of the film.

“Five Feet Apart” is an emotional, enlightening movie. Sprouse and Richardson shine in their roles as Will and Stella, and manage to capture the stark reality of terminal illness in a way that is relatable for all audiences—but make sure to bring your tissues!