Five Feet Apart (2019) - Film Review
Rating: 3 Stars
IMDB: 7.2 Metacritic: 53
“This whole time, I’ve been living for my treatments, instead of doing my treatments so that I can live.”
This is one of the many heart-breaking moments in Five Feet Apart, a film following the lives of two Cystic Fibrosis (CF) sufferers: a diligent, optimistic Stella (Haley Richardson) and a cynical, rebellious Will (Cole Sprouse). As Stella and Will gravitate towards one another, they struggle to accept guidelines to stay at least six-feet apart to avoid cross-contamination of potentially-fatal lung bacteria. In an act of rebellion, they steal one foot from CF to be five-feet apart, giving rise to the film’s title and their subsequent journey.
Directed by Justin Baldoni with extensive input from CF patient Claire Wineland - an extraordinary young lady who publicly shared her battle with CF before passing away last year - the authenticity of CF representation in this film is unparalleled. We witness the daily reality of CF management: the vibrating jackets to dislodge mucus, the infected G-tubes and the carefully monitored diets. At the centre of the film, is the under-explored impact of CF on mental health. We see the all-too-common sense of guilt felt by CF sufferers and the pain-staking lack of control felt by patients enlisted on a drug trial or those awaiting a lung transplant. We witness the familial bonds that form between fellow patients and the heart-wrenching sorrow left behind when CF steals young lives.
Despite this, Five Feet Apart has met great resistance from CF advocates. It romanticises the too-real dangers of bacterial cross-contamination to fit a Romeo-and-Juliet narrative and depicts the 6-foot guidelines as the villain, rather than the crippling disease. The film is littered with clichés that threaten to undermine the characters and, in the third act of the film, the beautiful subtleties of the film become overshadowed by unbelievable plot twists and the story sinks into ice-rink melodrama that pulls Stella’s character development down with it.
Yet between the clichés, romanticisation and Hollywood tropes, there are moments of truly raw emotion. This film is the first of its kind to truly expose the reality of CF and honours the legacy of Claire Wineland. Altogether, Five Feet Apart is a must-watch. But just make sure you have five feet of tissues.