With strong performances and a bit of tough love, this hard-edged romantic drama manages to transcend both the ‘Young Adult’ or even ‘Sickness Of The Week’ genres.
Influenced by the more mawkish The Fault In Our Stars and the like, this proves interesting because, while we’ve had lots of movies about cancer, heart disease, AIDS and many mental illnesses, there have been very, very few concerning the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis (except for the exceptionally graphic documentary Sick: The Life & Death Of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist).
A cleverly-handled opening sequence has young Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) talking about swimsuits and an upcoming holiday with her friends, but then we pull back to show that she’s in a hospital ward and she’s saying goodbye, before they go off to party without her. Stella has always been very ill and she’s recently been admitted due to a cold which, for anyone else, would be merely unpleasant and lead to a week of feeling low, but for her could be deadly.
Stella is seen on the nebuliser, taking endless medication, perennially hooked up to oxygen tanks and recording regular video updates on what looks like YouTube (but do we see that word anywhere?). Her bestie Poe (Moises Arias) is just down the hall, and while they’re lifelong friends, they’ve never really touched, as a particular bacteria ‘CFers’ can transmit to each other is very dangerous indeed. They must remain at least five feet apart – and yes, you can see where this is going.
Enter the brooding Will (Cole Sprouse), who’s on a drug trial but isn’t taking it seriously enough, and from the moment he and Stella first meet and get on each other’s nerves, you just know they’re destined to swoon, whether they can actually touch or not and no matter how long they might have together.
Sidestepping too much soppiness and cliché, there’s still enough here for fans of tear-jerkers to enjoy and blubber over, even if some might be surprised at the bleak and blackly comedic outlooks of CFers.
Five Feet Apart (M) is in cinemas from March 28