DIR: Justin Baldoni • WRI: Mikki Daughtry Tobias Iaconis • DOP: Frank G DeMarco • ED: Angela M. Catanzaro • PRO: Justin Baldoni, Cathy Schulman • DES: Tony Fanning • MUS: Alan Silvestri • CAST: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias, Kimberly Herbert Gregory
Five Feet Apart is essentially a teenage romance between Will and Stella (both 17), but it is a romance with unusually high stakes. Both have Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and have to remain at least six feet apart from each other to avoid cross infection. In the world of Cystic Fibrosis, infection can prove fatal and infection from a fellow “CFer” is particularly risky . [To find out why the film is not called ‘six feet apart’, you have to go see the movie.]
An early scene in the film sets the tone. Three teenage girls are joking as they discuss an event which one of them cannot attend. It only becomes apparent when two of them leave Stella on her own, that we are in a hospital room and that she is struggling to breath.
Will already has an infection which has ruled him out of a lung transplant. If the new trial drug he is on not does not clear the infection, he has no remaining options.
The initial contact between Will and Stella is anything both cordial. Stella has OCD issues and cannot abide Will’s casual approach to his “regimen” (his meds programme). After one of many arguments, Will leaves abruptly, dismissing Stella’s concerns with: “It’s just life Stella – it’ll be over before you know it”.
But there is a strong mutual attraction. Will agrees to embrace his ‘regimen’ if Stella will allow him to draw her. Will is an artist and animator of some talent. After initially refusing, Stella agrees and the relationship develops, despite some rocky patches. However, they can never kiss or hold hands. We sense early on that Will’s cavalier approach to his health and the rules may have serious consequences for both, especially as Stella gradually begins to embrace Will’s less regimented approach to his health.
They learn from the ever vigilant Nurse Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) that two previous teenage patients who became romantically involved died because they did not observe the six feet rule. Though only 17, both Stella and Will – and their mutual friend Po (Moises Arias), are well aware that their time may be short. This acts as a powerful drive in their desire to live for whatever time they have left.
Perhaps the main strength of this film is the performances from Haley Lu Richardson as Stella and Cole Sprouse as Will in roles that are layered and very well cast. This is the first leading role for Haley Lu Richardson and more will likely follow after this performance.
This is an impressive debut feature from director Justin Baldoni (35) who has worked mainly as an actor. He also made My Last Days, a series of documentaries featuring first-hand accounts of people on their final journey. He has clearly mined that experience in developing the script for Five Feet Apart.
Five Feet Apart is not a grim film. There are plenty of comic moments as it follows the developing romance of our two heroes – and the word hero is appropriate. But the theme of mortality is ever present.
The story is not without its faults. The absence of parents or relatives of the main protagonists until half way through the film is puzzling given the gravity of their illness. And when they do arrive, they do not add much to the narrative of the film. The plot occasionally veers down the route of sentimentality.
But for the most part, the story is gripping and very moving. It is also educational. Given that the film has already grossed a multiple of its budget in the US., it is difficult to understand why it has not secured a wider release here.
Brian Ó Tiomáin
12A (see IFCO for details)
Five Feet Apart is released 5th April 2019