- Justin Baldoni
- Run Time
- 1 hour and 38 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:a time to be born, and a time to die;a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;a time to kill, and a time to heal;a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh;a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…
Director Justin Baldoni’s Five Feet Apart , the story of two young CF victims, could easily have become one of those TV “disease of the week” dramas that critics love to decry. That it is not is thanks both to the script by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis and the talented young cast. We do learn much about cystic fibrosis—that over 30,000 people in the United States and more than 70,000 worldwide, have the disease. And, ominously for our young lovers, most victims will die before they are 40, though this is a big improvement over the days when most CF patients died while still children.
Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will (Cole Sprouse) are in the same hospital where they worry about health issues rather than about the usual teen concerns of school, teachers, proms and such. Although their disease is not communicable, Stella follows the six-foot rule of keeping a distance from others because of the fear of catching germs that can easily overcome her weakened immune system. The two meet at the window of the pediatric ward, but their time together is cut short by Nurse Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), upset because they are out of their rooms and a little closer than they should be. “Six feet,” she reminds them. She can be as brusque at times as Nurse Ratched, but she is not a power monger—she clearly cares for the welfare of her young charges.
Will is depressed, well aware of the odds against him, and thus not sure if the struggle is worth all the pain. It is Stella who reawakens his will to live—and love. He has a talent for drawing, which he soon puts to good use, sending her amusing drawings.
A third patient is Poe (Moises Arias), a gay teenager who brings much needed humor to the story. Stella often communicates with him, as well as Will and her other friends, via cell phone and lap top. There are ups and downs in the growing relationship between Stella and Will, the methodical Stella declaring to the rather sloppy Will that they will coordinate their treatments (she keeps a to do list in a notebook and lines up all her meds in neat rows on her med cart).
Although they know they cannot embrace, they rebel against the rules a bit by agreeing to shave off a foot from the official distance, Stella using a pool cue stick to show this. As their hearts grow closer, we wonder if their bodies will follow. Stella tells Will, “This whole time I’ve been living for my treatments instead of doing my treatments so that I can live. I want to live.” There is no cure for CF, so they, and we viewers, know that theirs will not be a “they lived happily ever after story.” And yet this is not a downer film, but rather one that suggests, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said on several occasions, that it is not the length of one’ life that matters, but the quality.
A good discussion of the importance of touching could arise from this film. Stella reflects, “Human touch … we need that touch from the one we love almost as much as the air we breathe. I never understood that until I couldn’t have it.” Think how touch is a part of intimacy—the touching & clasping of hands; the coming together of two pairs of lips in a kiss; the feel of a lover’s body against one’s own.
Another issue, but one not dealt with in the film is that of religion or faith and impending death. Although the hospital is named Saint Grace*, there never seems to be a priest or nun serving as chaplain or spiritual counselor. In one brief shot Stella is reading a paperback book with Life and Death in the title, but the film makers never venture into the spiritual realm. Maybe they have seen too many faith-based films that ruin an otherwise sensitive film by suggesting that if we pray hard and sincerely enough God will send a miracle to save the couple.
I know that if given the choice of watching such a film and this one, I will always choose films like Mr. Baldoni’s. Stella and Will are witty, creative, funny, and courageous, two teenagers about whom we come to care a great deal. The hour and almost forty minutes in their company is time well spent.
At the end of the film we see that it is in memory of Claire. This was in reference to Claire Wineland, a native of Austin Texas, born with CF, who spent a fourth of her life in hospitals. At the age of 13 she founded Claire’s Place Foundation, and appeared on several national TV programs and traveled the country on behalf of young people with CF. She died at the age of 21 on September 2, 2018 from a stroke following a lung transplant. Judging by her videos that I have seen on YouTube, there is a lot of Claire written into Stella.
*For the amusing way that I learned how the hospital’s name was chosen, see my interview with the film’s director Justin Baldoni.
This review will be in the March issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion and my interview with the director. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.
6 Replies to “Five Feet Apart (2019)”
I agree with you that the performance were good. But I have problems with the script.
1). The major death scene feels like it’s only purpose was to advance the plot of Stella and cause even more angst in her already incredibly distressful life.
2). I understand they are trying to depict how lonely and isolating it can be for CF sufferers in a hospital. But I feel the script serves to isolate CF from the rest of the population. Instead of scene after scene of Stella’s You-Tube videos, why not show her real time at school, with her friends, educating that people with CF are just like normal people in many ways. It’s fine to touch them and have relationships with them. I have read a lot online where CFers don;t want to be defined by their illness. But for me, this is exactly what the script does by showing only the challenges one goes through during CF hospital stays. Everything Stella goes through is burdened or defined by CF.
3. The script focuses on one person. I got so tired of hearing Stella’s voice. I just didn’t care about her in the end. I related to the female lead in The Fault In Our Stars because there was so much interaction between her and many others. It wasn’t just about her. I kept wanting to push her out of the middle of the screen, so I could see/learn about another character.
The actress was okay but the written character was charismatic and realistic enough to carry the entire movie. It would have worked better for me as an ensemble that focused on Poe, Will and Stella EQUALLY.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. This shows how two viewers can come away with different reactions to a scene. Poe’s death does indeed advance the plot as you observe, but for me it also showed the fragility of the three lives and the importance of not taking for granted a relationship. As to showing Stella at school. I’m not sure she was enrolled in one–maybe I missed the reference to this. I’m pretty sure Claire Wineland, whom the director knew and referred to in the ‘in memory of” note, was home schooled. You may be right that an ensemble cast approach would have been better–love those Robert Altman films!–but this is the film we do have, and, though it could be improved, it is so much better than most of the junk out there.
I agree. No disease keeps us from relationships. Even if they can’t be physical.
Yes, that’s true. You’ll want to see the interview with the director, as he speaks about this.
I was a respiratory therapist when they started the notouch world. Prior to that they had cystic summer camps where everyone had a good time. Many fell in love and got married young before it was too late. They also had outside of their world many friends . Very precious and intelligent young people. Very artistic too.
Sideline a major complaint was how steroids caused personality abberences( rage etc, )
Thanks for your comments as one knowledgeable of the topic.