Five Feet Apart (2019) Review
THE FAULT IN OUR TEEN ROMANCE
It goes without saying that teen movies have become a dime a dozen in the Hollywood industry of filmmaking. While it’s most a subgenre of sorts (could be various film genres), teen movies have been around for some time, with some fan favorites being produced back in 80s like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off just to name a few. Push more into the later 2000s era, Hollywood has started to cater to the more “millennial” generation, producing feature films that appeal to the current age of teenagers. Movies like Easy A, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Spectacular Now, The Edge of Seventeen, The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, and many others have become increasingly steadfast in the current releases for each subsequent year that follows. While the gender has gone on into the more “fantastical” realms with its narrative and stories (see popular dystopian franchise series like The Hunger Games saga or The Maze Runner trilogy), Hollywood continues to produce teen drama feature films, including 2018 movies like Everything, Everything, Midnight Sun, and Love, Simon. Now, Lionsgate films (along with CBS Films) and director Justin Baloni presents the latest teen romance drama endeavor with the movie Five Feet Apart. Does this 2019 motion picture stand to make a differentiate itself from similar films or is it just another “run-of-the-mill” teen melodrama endeavor?
Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) suffers from cystic fibrosis (a genetic disorder that mostly affects a person’s lungs), returning to the hospital for a lengthy duration to receive medical treatment when her condition “flared” up. She’s made a home in the medical center, respecting the “six feet” distance rule, where patients are forced to keep their distance from other CF residents. Enter Will Newman (Cole Sprouse), a new arrival CF patient who’s undergoing a special clinical trial, who immediately takes shine to Stella’s presence in the hospital. While initially resistant to Will’s forward charm, she eventually warms up to the teenage artist, sharing a special bond of friendship as she helps him with his self-treatments and medicine during his stay. However, while the two can’t touch or even be close, a budding relationship ensues, with Stella confronting past memories and her current situation, while Will faces his own shortened mortality and the life he chooses to live.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Yes, I’ll admit…. I do like some teen dramas movie out there (both old and new ones). Growing up in the 90s, I saw plenty of 90s teen based driven movies, especially the ones towards the late 90s / early 00s era, including American Pie, She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, A Walk to Remember, and several other ones. Of course, I also liked a lot of the teen movies from the 80s, but (to be honest) I actually didn’t see those ones until later (when I became more interested in watching movies). As for the new “millennial” movies, I do like to have them as well, but sometimes they can be a bit “hit or miss” to me. Of course, like I said above, some teen film endeavors have essentially worked (i.e. The Twilight saga, the Hunger Games saga, and standalone features li Ake The Fault in Our Stars or Love, Simon. In truth, teen movies can be difficult thing to pull off as sometimes they can be too “syrupy” in teen drama or too “unrealistic”. Of course, these movies are usually gear towards teenagers (a demographic between ages 13 to 18 roughly) and they can be (mostly the romance drama comedies ones) a bit too predictable and formulaic with plenty of well-trodden paths to follow from start to finish.
This brings me back to talking about the film Five Feet Apart, the latest YA / Teen Romance that portrays youthful teenagers fall in love in amongst the ill-fate disease that plagues or both of them. To be honest, I really don’t remember hearing about the movie online until I saw the movie trailer for it around November 2018 (I saw it when I went to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald). Judging from the trailer, my first opinion about this movie was that it was gonna be just another melodramatic teen / YA endeavor that I’ve seeing plenty of times over the past several years in other feature films. The cast (i.e. the film’s two leads) I do like from their past projects, which did interest me, but it wasn’t something I was fully excited to see. However, as I continue to “broaden” my movie horizons, I went to go see the movie during its opening weekend, hoping the feature would be produce something “different” (again…hoping) from what I’ve seeing in the past. So…what did I think of it? Well, despite the film’s noblest intentions of making a wholesome story, Five Feet Apart does falter and gets bogged down with generic / formulaic teen romance syrup drama. The movie is not a complete disappointment, but it never reaches the standards of what it aspires to be.
Five Feet Apart is directed by Justin Baloni, who has done previous actor roles in projects like Jane the Virgin and The Bold and the Beautiful as well as directing several TV movie documentaries like My Last Days and Rebel with a Cause: The Sam Simon Story. Thus, Baloni makes his directorial debut (as a feature film director) with this particular movie; making Five Feet Apart his most ambitious project to date. To his credit, Baloni does succeed in accomplishing a somewhat decent job in crafting a motion picture out of a narrative such as this (even though its derivate to other similar movies that have come before) and does a fairly good job in tackling a project on this scale (i.e. a small-scale personal story rather than massively scale blockbuster endeavor). Baloni takes the standard aspects and nuances of the classic teen cinematic arena of filmmaking and presenting them in this feature film; focusing its narrative on the characters of Stella and Will and their “day to day” lives of living in the hospital and how they cope with their ill-fated disease (physically and mentality). Moreover, Baloni certainly does help explain (or rather shedding light) on the condition of CF (i.e. cystic fibrosis) and how fragile a person’s life is when the disease is contracted. The whole “six feet apart” rule is actually quite interesting as well as all their various treatments that Stella and Will undergo. It’s also interesting to see how both characters come to terms with their lives. Yes, both follow the predictable nature of youthful teens falling love, but the characters are both more mature like individuals, making adult decisions for their treatments and coming to terms with their inevitable end (i.e. the finality of their lives). It may be just overly dramatic at some points, but its something worth noting in tale like this. Essentially, Baldoni makes the story work, proceeding to tell a gentle tale that focuses on the blossoming “young love” relationship of two people and horrible burden that must live.
In terms of technical presentation, Five Feet Apart looks and feel like something appropriate for a teen romance drama endeavor. Overall, the movie isn’t really something extraordinary of scope and scale, but a narrative like this shouldn’t be large and expansive. Thus, the overall presentation of the feature keeps majority of the film’s setting / backdrop minimal as we (the viewers) focus on the characters that populate the world. That being said, the efforts made by Tony Fanning (production designs), Bradford Johnson (set decorations), and Rachel Sage Kunin (costume designs) are all quite good for this specific film genre endeavor as well as a few cinematography shots from Frank G. DeMarco and the film’s gently score by Brian Tyler and Breton Vivian. Additionally, the movie does have the mellow / somber tone of teen music soundtrack selection of which usually do accompany teen-based motion pictures. Most of them are gentle and pleasant to listen to whenever they play (mostly to help sequences of emotional drama), but most of them feel exactly the same and kind of run together (as if they’re doing by the same one or two artists).
Unfortunately, Five Feet Apart does falter throughout its narrative and never rises beyond certain aspects that plague the teen / YA romance drama cinematic realm. For starters (as many will immediately guess), the film (for better or worse) feels completely derivate to similar teen films of late. There’s a little bit of Fault in Our Stars, a little bit of Midnight Sun, a little bit of The Space Between Us, and few other ones as well. I’m not saying that these are bad, but I couldn’t help but notice that overall familiarity within the tragic teen romance subtext of the genre. The narrative, while meaningful and tender (tugging on the hearts strings) feels extremely formulaic and predictable, taking all the commonly used angst of teens falling in love in the movies (including a bloated dose of syrupy teen / tearful melodrama). In a nutshell, the story just lacks originality and creativity to make it different from similar features that have come before. It doesn’t completely derail the viewing experience, but it’s one that certainly hampers the film from reaching lofty goal that it aspires to be. Additionally, the film’s third act feels overdrawn, prolonging the picture’s ending with unnecessary builds ups and making the movie overstay its welcome.
The film’s script, which was penned by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, does contribute to that factor, painting a very “teen based” centric drama vibe throughout the entire feature. Of course, that’s the very nature of the film, so it can be overlooked to some degree. That being said, however, the script is a little flimsy on how it handles certain aspects and narrative nuances. A perfect example of this is the personal relationships that both characters Stella and Will have with their parents. To be quite honest, their parents are barely in the movie and one who think they (as parents to these teens) would play a more instrumental part of the story. However, there barely in it and lets a lot to be desired in that aspect. Another goofy / silly aspect is how Stella gets involved with Will’s treatment. It seems very convenient and doesn’t feel organic…. just a plot device for her to get close to him. There’s also plenty of somewhat eye-rolling moments of melodrama of teen angst. Again, I was expecting this from the movie, but it was bit too much and felt too theatrically blah (i.e. too syrupy).
Perhaps the greatest strength that movie has to offer is in the combine acting talents of the film’s central leads of Stella Grant and Will Newman, who are played by actress Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse. Of the two, Richardson, known for her roles in The Edge of Seventeen, Spilt, and Operation Finale, does carry a lot of the film’s emotional weight on her shoulders and do so with enough theatrical dramatics to make us (the viewer) sympathetic her plights over her CF condition and her affect towards Will. Likewise, Sprouse, known for his roles in Riverdale, Friends, and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, does a great job in selling the more brooding / rebellious youth of the pair, sharing moments of levity and heartfelt dramatic moments when a scene calls for them. Together, both Richardson and Sprouse have a likeable quality to both of their characters (always rooting for them through their trials and tribulations throughout) and do have a rather good on-screen chemistry with each other, which certainly does help sell their teenage love for one another effectively. It’s nothing remarkable or electrifying, but it definitely carries the film (emotionally) and is definitely better than most I’ve seeing in past Teen / YA romance endeavors.
Of the supporting cast, the only two the truly do shine (or at least make a lasting impression on the movie) are the characters of Poe (Stella’s gay friend at the hospital who also has CF as well) and Barb (one of the nurses that works at the hospital and oversees many of the CF patients). Played by Moises Arias (Hannah Montana and Ender’s Game) and Kimberly Herbert Gregory (Vice Principals and Kevin (Probably) Saves the World), these two characters definitely are solid supporting characters that help bolster the character builds of both Stella and Will in the movie and definitely play their respective parts in the feature’s narrative. Thus, both Arias and Gregory did respectable jobs in their roles as Poe and Nurse Barb.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast of characters in the movie, including actress Parminder Nagra (Bend it Like Beckham and The Blacklist) as Dr. Hamid, actress Claire Forlani (Meet Joe Black and Mallrats) as Will’s mom Meredith Newman, actress Trina LaFargue (Queen Sugar and Claws) as Mya, actress Ariana Guerra (Candy Jar and Dumplin’) as Hope, actress Cecilia Leal (Mr. Mercedes and Cloak & Dagger) as Camila, actor Brett Austin Johnson (Swamp Murders) as Jason, actress Cynthia Evans (High Rise and Tales) as Stella’s mom Erin Grant, and Greg Weeks (Instant Family and Parks and Recreation) as Stella’s dad Tom Grant, are all very weak characters in the movie. I’m not saying that these particular roles are poorly acted (all these actors and actresses give solid performances in their respective roles), but the movie never allows these characters to flourish or expand upon beyond their initial introduction, which (as I mentioned above) is a disappointing, especially since several of these characters should’ve been more developed.
The young tragic love of Stella Grant and Will Newman comes together during their hospital stay for their CF treatment in the movie Five Feet Apart. Director Justin Baloni’s directorial theatrical debut sees the classic story of young teen romance and makes it another carnation of those narrative; giving those who have cystic fibrosis a cinematic teen soapy love story to call their own. While the film’s content is poignant and respectful and two leads do a great job in selling their relationship (and well-acted to boot), majority of the feature does feel completely predictable and formulaic; becoming to syrupy and clichés (along with a problematic third act and some perplexing / flat supporting characters) to discern from similar movies out there. Personally, I thought this movie was just okay. I mean I thought the story cute and tender (for a teen romance arena), but I thought it was too generic and too much melodrama syrupy. Thus, my recommendation would be an “iffy choice”, for those who have a special affinity to these types of movies will like it, but everyone else might think its bland and too over-the-top teenager dramatics. In the end, Five Feet Apart, despite its strong performance from both Richardson and Sprouse as well as a gentle story of love and life, falls short of establishing itself in the teen / YA film genre. Just another youthful tragic love that feels too derivate to The Fault in Our Stars.
3.2 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)
Released On: March 15th, 2019
Reviewed On: April 1st, 2019
Five Feet Apart is 112 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, and suggestive material