'Five Feet Apart' Movie Review

“Human touch, we need that touch from the one we love almost as much as we need air to breathe. I never understood that until I couldn’t have it." - Stella Grant 

Over the weekend, I finally had the chance to see Justin Baldoni’s new movie, Five Feet Apart, starring Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse. You likely know these names from other popular television shows and movies. Both Baldoni and Sprouse are CW hotties: Justin plays Rafael in Jane the Virgin, and Cole stars as Jughead in the show Riverdale. Haley Lu Richardson has previously had roles in the coming of age film, The Edge of Seventeen as well as the thriller, Split.

On this movie-going experience, I was accompanied by my precious boyfriend who had no idea the emotional rollercoaster he was in for and the employees of my local movie theater were amazed by his willingness to allow me to pick the movie. He enjoyed the movie and appreciated its story-telling abilities. I adored the movie and left the theater with a sticky, tear covered face after showering his sweatshirt and tissues with many tears. Yes, it is a young adult romance. Yes, it might be marketed towards young females who love this genre, but this movie is intended for any audience member who will listen and allow themselves to be moved by the story and its compelling characters. It is meant to represent and bring attention to a disease that does not always get the media attention that it deserves. This will hopefully cause a greater awareness for cystic fibrosis and strengthen the fight for a cure. All that being said, we both truly enjoyed the movie. We were enlightened by its intentions to educate and appreciated its uplifting story-telling abilities. 

The director and cast created a brilliant heart-warming and heart-wrenching film about the realities of life for people who live with cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease that causes an excessive build-up of mucus in the lungs and pancreas. The disease can be life-threatening and requires regimens of medication, treatments and rules that many people might not know. It's a story that tries to represent the lives of these patients honestly, but like always, there are moments that are embellished for Hollywood's storytelling techniques. Baldoni worked with his close friend, Claire Wineland, a young woman with cystic fibrosis who tragically passed away last year. She was an activist, author and outspoken YouTuber who lived confidently and joyfully through her treatments and was a positive role model for people with CF and those who do not have the disease alike. The movie is meant to be an honest portrayal of the lives of three different patients/friends/lovers who have cystic fibrosis and live together in the hospital. It’s a story of strength and reveals that life can be full, wonderful and lived fearlessly even when defined by the rules of this disease.

The main guideline for people with CF that this film focuses on is the advisement that two individuals who both have CF should not get within six feet of one another. This is because there can be a dangerous risk of exchanging each other's bacteria. A cough is said to travel up to six feet, hence the distance advised. This dangerous bacteria exchange is especially likely to happen through saliva, which means kissing for these star-crossed lovers is also out of the question. An existence where you are unable to hug your best friend when they need comforting or simply hold the hand of the boy you like is a reality for so many people living with CF and this movie decided to say something about it. The audience empathizes and realizes the simple pleasures of life that some people are unable to enjoy. This is meant to stir up unrest and stimulate research as well as charitable giving to increase donations to charities geared at cystic firbrosis. Cure CF is an important charity that was started by fifteen parents of children diagnosed with cystic fibrosis who were ready to make a change. They are big believers in research leading to a cure and they are passionate about funding this continued research. Anyone has the opportunity to volunteer or donate to their cause and there has been a great influx in numbers since the release of the film. Another movement that Baldoni thanked the audience for is the amount of people who have reached out to him to say they have become organ donors after watching.

So if the rule is a six foot distance, you might be wondering, why is this movie titled Five Feet Apart? Well, let’s talk about it. The heroine of the film, Stella Grant, is a CF patient who is bubbly, fun-loving within her comfort zone, extremely organized, and fiercely determined to live a full life and live for the people that need her. Her life is in orderly control with her best friend, Poe, her friendship with the hospital’s nurses, her overly organized med cart, and popular YouTube channel until she meets the new guy down the hall. Will is her exact opposite. He is disorganized, pessimistic, sarcastic and not all that interested in life in general. He literally drives her crazy. She can’t focus on her own life when she knows his is such a mess. While both teenagers are living with CF, they are experiencing very different things. Stella is on the transplant list; she is waiting for a new pair of lungs and having to remain in good health so her body can be prepared whenever the surgery might occur. Will, on the other hand, has contracted a rare and dangerous bacteria that got him kicked off the transplant list altogether. He is a new patient at the hospital because he is going through an experimental trial to try to kill the bacteria. Tragically, the odds are not great. A romance that begins by being compelled to organize his med cart and convince him to take his treatments seriously gets messy, complicated and undeniably beautiful. They begin to do their regimens together in order for her to keep him accountable. FaceTiming while eating pudding filled with medication, using the high-frequency chest wall oscillation, a vibrating vest meant to loosen and thin mucus in the lungs, and forcing him to go to the gym are all ways that the determined Stella thinks she will convince the boy to take life seriously. All the while, he is trying to convince her to do the opposite. Will is focused on humanity’s finite quality and everyone’s inevitable death. The two lovers challenge one another to see the world differently and bring a new dynamic to their life in the hospital. It's undeniable that they bring a new sense of joy and hope to each other as well.

Having to maintain a six foot distance between oneself and the one you love is a reality I can't even begin to imagine, and my heart ached upon the realization that this is reality for many people. After living by the rules for long enough, Stella decides to take something back from the disease that has taken so much from her. She decides that the extra sixth foot is unnecessary and simply makes her mad, so she steals it back. Five feet instead of six might not seem like a lot, but the intimacy that comes with this elimination of twelve inches is pure and sweet. The length of a pool stick measures exactly five feet, which is what the two use to keep a safe distance on their first date. They hold each ends of the stick as if they were holding hands. The dates are full of sneaking off when they're not supposed to and sharing new and intimate moments with each other. When they find themselves in a scary, life-threatening, there's-nothing-else-to-be-done situation, they have to make some pretty tough choices and some big sacrifices. The love they have is silly and playful at times, but ultimately deep and completely selfless. It all comes down to the most important thing in life: a connection with someone that means more than anything. It hurts and warms your heart all at once. Love is the most powerful force in the world and it cannot be denied, no matter the circumstances.

Behind the scenes, we've also been loving the friendly chemistry between the two actors off screen. They have clearly had a great time at all the press events and interviews and have even gotten close with one anothers' significant others. Instagram posts revealed that Cole's girlfriend, Lili Reinhart, who also stars in Riverdale, has gotten super close with Haley Lu. Additionally, Haley's now fiancé, Brett Dier, better known as Michael on Jane the Virgin, has had a budding bromance with Cole. Side note: Haley Lu proposed to Brett!! You go, girl!

This film was powerful in its acting, casting and story-telling, but its true power came from the representation it provided and the conversation it started about the CF community. It was important for audiences to learn the ins and outs of living with CF. We hope that people in the CF community feel love and support as a result of this movie! I highly recommend it. Bring a friend, your parents, a sibling, your boo, or anyone you love for that matter.