[Screen It]


(2019) (Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse) (PG-13)

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Drama: Two teenagers who are hospitalized for treatment of their cystic fibrosis must contend with becoming romantically involved and having to maintain a distance between each other to avoid the risk of bacterial cross-contamination.
Stella Grant (HALEY LU RICHARDSON) is a teenager who's had to deal with cystic fibrosis all of her life, including repeated stints in hospitals for treatment. She's back in one now -- with just fifty percent lung capacity and hoping for a transplant -- alongside her childhood friend, Poe (MOISES ARIAS), who likewise has the same ailment. Due to the threat of getting a deadly bacterial infection from each other, such patients must often wear gloves and masks and remain six feet apart from each other.

Stella doesn't feel that will be a problem concerning a new patient there, Will Newman (COLE SPROUSE), who, like everyone else on the floor, is watched over carefully by nurse Barb (KIMBERLY HEBERT GREGORY) and her team. Will's more daredevil attitude and not keeping up with his meds don't mesh with Stella's self-proclaimed, OCD-fueled control freak nature, but he likes something in her. And thus he manages to convince her to allow him to draw her in exchange for him following his medical regime.

As the two form a friendship that turns into something more, they must contend with the fact that they must remain six feet apart and the fact that their futures are anything but certain.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
So-called disease of the week films usually appeal to everyday moviegoers but often are the equivalent of cinematic nails down the old chalkboards to film reviewers. And that's because they traditionally take real-life maladies and use them as plot devices to manipulate emotions out of viewers.

After all, the goal of any storyteller is to make their main character sympathetic to audiences and what better way to do that then give them a condition or illness that further complicates whatever their goal may be?

Thus, such films usually get that "disease of the week" moniker, especially as related to them seemingly popping up on second-tier cable channels all of the time. Likely aware of that reputation, filmmakers who embark on telling such a tale obviously must balance along that fine line of respectfully portraying the condition and those who must contend with it, while also trying to deliver the emotional goods.

Such would certainly be the case with "Five Feet Apart," a decently made and engaging film about teens suffering from cystic fibrosis that should appeal to viewers. That is, aside from snobby film critics who automatically turn up their noses at any such stories, thinking they smell whiffs or heavy doses of emotional manipulation, mawkishness and such headed their way.

And to be fair, there's plenty of potential for that here, what with one such cystic fibrosis patient, Stella (Haley Lu Richardson), being at 50% lung capacity, while another, Will (Cole Sprouse), is on an experimental protocol due to not being a candidate for a lung transplant.

Taking a cue from other such films -- and romantic comedies -- the two initially don't like each other -- she's an OCD suffering control freak and he's a bit too much of a fatalistic wiseass for her liking. But as in all such films, they slowly but surely start to fall for each other -- complete with her having a gay best friend (Moises Arias) and sounding board who's also suffering from CF -- and then go through the standard relationship arc.

Complicating matters, however, is the fact that due to the potential for one or both passing on a potentially deadly bacterial infection to each other, they must maintain a distance of six feet. If you're wondering why the title then is twelve inches short, that's the result of Stella bending the rules a bit, something that won't sit well with their hospital nurse (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) whose only goal is to keep them alive by following safety protocols.

Despite the standard and seemingly obligatory relationship arc, Richardson and Sprouse make for an engaging and attractive couple, and they -- and writers Mikki Daughtry & Tobias Iaconis and director Justin Baldoni -- decently utilize a combination of pathos and love-based hope to make us care about the leads and their budding but potentially ill-fated romance.

For the most part, the film worked for me although it started pushing its luck with the Grim Reaper starting to sniff around the place in the third act and things getting, well, a bit too predictable and emotionally manipulative. Thankfully, that doesn't derail or run what comes before it, and the leads certainly make the most of their material.

While it likely won't change the minds of those who continually hope for a cure for or eradication of these sorts of weekly disease flicks, I was engaged and like "Five Feet Apart" enough to give it a 6 out of 10 rating.

Reviewed March 11, 2019 / Posted March 15, 2019

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