Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse in a scene from Five Feet Apart.
Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse in a scene from Five Feet Apart. Supplied

MOVIE REVIEW: Distance the new obstacle in sick- lit romance


*** 1/2

Director Justin Baldoni

Starring Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse

Running time 116 minutes

Verdict A heart-wrenching, three-hanky romance


Instead of feuding families, this contemporary Romeo and Juliet are separated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the high likelihood of cross infection.

On a scale of romantic obstacles, it would be hard to top cystic fibrosis, or CF as it is referred to here.

Directed by Justin Baldoni, from an original screenplay by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, Five Feet Apart tells the story of a young woman who grapples valiantly with the limitations of her illness - until she falls for a bad boy who encourages her to take a few risks.

Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) is doing everything she can to cheat death.

That includes swallowing a whole lot of medication, feeding herself green mush through a stomach tube, sucking on mucus-loosening vapour and wearing a phlegm-inducing vibration vest.

Cole Sprouse in a scene from Five Feet Apart.
Cole Sprouse in a scene from Five Feet Apart.

She approaches this punishing daily regimen with a discipline that borders on obsession, while systematically working her way through a series of "to do" lists - master and minor - which include a regular vlog, the complete works of Shakespeare and an app that supports patients with their medication.

Will Newman (Cole Sprouse) takes a more fatalistic approach to the genetic disorder. Dark and a little brooding, he's made a kind of peace with the persona of a tragic artist - or so it seems.

In Stella's earthy enthusiasm, Will finds a glimmer of hope.

He teaches her how to live a little in return.

The film's title refers to a Cystic Fibrosis Foundation guideline that patients be kept at least six feet (2m) apart to lower the risk of cross infection.

When Stella "steals" a foot back from her illness, it's her measured way of challenging its limitations.

The latest in a string of strong YA sick-lit romances that includes The Fault In Our Stars, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Me Before You, Five Feet Apart follows a pretty standard template with due care and attention.

Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse in Five Feet Apart.
Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse in Five Feet Apart.

The climactic frozen lake crisis stretches audience credulity to breaking point, although it does echo Romeo and Juliet's deathbed-drug potion scene, and cystic fibrosis sufferers and their families may well have some issues with the way the cruel condition is portrayed here - such as the protagonists' tragic beauty.

But the film successfully sucks its audience into the insular hothouse of a long-term hospital ward and the drama and tension inherent in the characters' plight is sustained by a strong and empathetic performance from Richardson.

There's a reason why these intensely emotional stories are so popular with young adults at a time when they are examining the big questions and experiencing life in extremes.

Five Feet Apart opens on Thursday.