Five Feet Apart: An Enchanting, Fatal Teenage Love Story

By: Emma Kolick.

Cystic fibrosis is a destructive and deadly disease that has gone virtually unnoticed through much of society. However, the release of the film Five Feet Apart strongly conveys the multi-faceted adversities that are intertwined into the lives of two terminally-ill teenagers that are infected with this illness that causes lung infections and lessens the capability to breathe. The tear-jerking portrayals of Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will (Cole Sprouse) demonstrate the despondency that gradually settles into their already-disastrous relationship as well as help bring to light the hardships brought on by cystic fibrosis. Based on the YA novel by Rachael Lippincott, the complication in their romance is manifested when one rule becomes apparent to the audience: they are required to stay six feet apart.

Five Feet Apart was directed by debut director Justin Baldoni, who has starred in numerous award-winning TV series such as Jane the Virgin and Madam Secretary. As he depicted a tragic love tale while also illustrating the devastating effects cystic fibrosis victims endure, Baldoni successfully manages to tackle two vital storylines and crucial themes in less than two hours.

The film’s opening scene transpires in an ironically homely hospital room in which Stella stays for the duration of the movie. Having been diagnosed with this disease at the pinnacle of her childhood, her meticulously organized rows of pills and obsessive live streaming of her treatments prove her unwillingness to yield to her condition.

Shortly following her arrival at the hospital, newcomer Will is introduced to both the audience and Stella. Along with his defiant demeanor and apathetic approach to his experimental clinical trial, his charismatic charm instantly results in Stella’s fascination with his persona.

While their dispositions are in opposition to one another, her optimism only motivates Will to begin adhering to the prescribed treatments. Due to the severity of their shared illness and the abundance of bacteria in their lungs, it is imperative to their survival that they remain at least six feet apart. Rather than remaining six feet apart, Stella responds to this unnatural restriction by reducing the medically required limitation by one foot.

This subtraction of one foot is intended to symbolize Stella’s love-inspired resistance to all that cystic fibrosis has taken from her. As the film progresses, Will’s headstrong personality and Stella’s hatred for her disease, which is brought on by her newfound love and the constraints she is required to obey, ultimately leads to an intensification of their love and treacherous recklessness that eventually puts them in significant danger.

Alongside the remarkable, though sometimes predictable, plot is the stellar performances by Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse in which they flawlessly portray the immense affliction brought on by cystic fibrosis as well as the reckless passion involved in their love story. They quickly realize, however, their romance is ill-fated from the start. Both the recklessness of the characters and the talent of the two actors is best illustrated at the moment when Stella resolves to sneak out of the hospital with Will. Unbeknownst to him, a set of lungs are being prepared for Stella’s long-awaited lung transplant.

As Stella and Will are strolling through a snow-ridden park, Stella immediately freezes when she receives a text stating that a lung transplant is finally available. While she is consistently optimistic regarding her disease, she eventually begins to feel guilty. She realizes in order for her to receive a lung transplant, someone else has to die. When Will finally becomes aware of what is transpiring at the hospital, he urges Stella to accept the lung transplant.

Considering Will’s pessimistic outlook on cystic fibrosis, his sudden reversal of perspective proves how powerfully Stella has influenced his viewpoint. Richardson and Sprouse’s aptitude for bringing their characters to life in this particular scene results in the audience wanting to somehow enter into the scene and persuade her to receive the transplant.

Furthermore, the setting of the story helped add to the mood of the film. Set in a hospital for the vast majority of the movie, the dreary and seemingly hopeless atmosphere effectively conveys just how many obstacles stand in Stella and Will’s way. Along with the fluorescent lights hitting the stark white tile floor, the morbid environment shows how unlikely it is for their relationship to work, which makes their romance all the more arduous and impressive.

Despite the positive attributes contained in the film, it’s not without its shortcomings. Though an enthralling storyline, this film epitomizes the entertainment industry’s abhorrent infatuation with terminal illnesses, as numerous films have been made to romanticize the victims afflicted with these conditions.

Moreover, narratives of countless movies, such as The Fault in Our Stars and Everything, Everything, attempt to show two dying teenagers whose intense and extraordinary love is nearly terminated, but their unexpected intimacy results in them overcoming their limitations. Though one of the key characters usually departs or perishes, these movies ultimately convey a twisted message while simultaneously idolizing those inflicted with certain illnesses.

Although the film was dominated by Hollywood’s abnormal obsession, Five Feet Apart nevertheless successfully shows both the tragic medical and emotional effects brought on by cystic fibrosis. Amidst the heart-altering plot came stellar acting by Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse in which their characters were carefully developed throughout the movie, resulting in a spectacular film that is sure to exceed expectations.  

Emma Kolick is currently a freshman at North Royalton High School. She is involved in numerous clubs such as student council, Key Club, Spanish Club, Fish Club, and STAND. She is also a member of the girls track team. Outside of school she enjoys yoga, spending time with her friends, reading and writing. After high school, she plans to attend college and possibly pursue a career in education and journalism.