Five Feet Apart (3 stars)

Five Feet Apart

Touching YA drama about the romance between two teens with cystic fibrosis

A YA drama set almost entirely in a hospital, Five Feet Apart rises far above terminally ill teen clichés for much of its running time thanks to a smart script and touching performances from Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias, and, most notably, lead actress Haley Lu Richardson.

Richardson stars as Stella, a young woman with the life-threatening genetic disease cystic fibrosis. As she explains in the chatty, optimistic YouTube videos she records from her hospital bed, CF is an incurable lung disease treated by drugs, hospital stays and breathing apparatus to stem the build up of mucus in the patient's lungs. And because each person can carry infections in their already fragile organs, they are not allowed to touch or be within six feet of another CF patient, in case they infect each other.

Stuck in hospital for another lengthy stay due to an infection, Stella communicates with her friend and fellow CF sufferer Poe (Arias) mainly through text messages and laptop screens, visits the neonatal ward to gaze at the babies under the watchful eye of Nurse Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), and encounters tousled-haired CF teen Will (Riverdale's Sprouse), who has a darker view of his condition and life in general.

Extremely insightful about the challenges cystic fibrosis patients face, Justin Baldoni's debut is often heartfelt and moving, especially when Will and Stella's growing friendship blossoms into a tentative romance, one rendered all the more poignant because they can never touch. Indeed, a whole box of tissues will be required for one incredibly sad scene that's beautifully played by Richardson; it comes as a shock then when the film almost immediately takes a melodramatic downturn, with a final-act plot twist that's utterly unbelievable.

What a shame that the ending – better suited to a disease-of-the-week TV movie – is fumbled so badly as, up until this point, Five Feet Apart is one of the better teen dramas of recent years. It's still worth a look for the performances and, more importantly, for its sensitive depiction of what life is like for the kids, teens and adults living with this life-limiting condition.

General release from Fri 22 Mar.

Five Feet Apart

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Justin Baldoni
  • Cast: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Claire Forlani
  • UK release: 22 March 2019

Stella (Richardson) is a young woman with cystic fibrosis who falls for another CF patient, Will (Sprouse). A smart script and touching performances but with a fumbled, melodramatic ending; still, it’s a sensitive, heartfelt and often moving look at what it’s like to live with this life-threatening condition.