Imagine love – just love in general – without being able to touch the person you love. Whether this is love for a parent, a sibling, a friend, or someone else, it’s hard to picture not having the ability to just go and give that person a hug.
Now imagine it in the case of romantic love. That’s almost impossible. For Stella and Will, though, it’s either that, or no love at all.
And that’s what Five Feet Apart takes a hard look at. Its main characters both have cystic fibrosis – a disease where they can catch each other’s germs and bacteria if they get close enough to each other to spread these things.
This is a movie that takes place almost entirely inside of a hospital. It’s where our main characters end up because of their sickness, and also where they meet and bond. But it conjures up a heartbreaking irony, wherein these characters must remain so sedentary, while at the same time, they must keep their distance.
That is the real crux of the story. It’s this strong desire – what basically amounts to a need – for physical connection. This idea bookends the film. It’s what we as humans crave almost above all else. But for these people, it’s unattainable. So what does that say? What does that mean, and how can other people, who do not have to deal with such an affliction, relate to characters like this?
The movie addresses all of these questions, but not until the end, which is why I’m leaving out the answers here. What I will say is, where this film has the chance to tip its hand and play it very by-the-numbers, it chooses to be subversive instead. It takes itself seriously and understands the weight of what it’s talking about. Where a lesser film may idealize and romanticize this condition, Five Feet Apart takes a real and hard look at it and doesn’t pull any punches. Its leads – especially Haley Lu Richardson – are totally on board with this tone, and carry the film. She gives an excellent performance worthy of a better movie than this.
This isn’t to say that this is a bad movie, but it just misses the mark in a few areas. Specifically, its third act could use a major rewrite to make the whole message hit home harder than it does. But in the end, that’s just a minor qualm. Five Feet Apart is a solid look at love and what it truly means to want what you can’t have. It leaves you asking, “What’s worth it?” And that’s no small feat.