This year’s first teen romance has arrived in the form of two dying kids in love, and it’s trying its hardest to make sure you leave the theatre sobbing.
Following the footsteps of other sick kid romances (see: A Walk To Remember, The Fault In Our Stars, Everything Everything), Five Feet Apart tells the story of two star-crossed lovers who are kept apart because of the risk of cross-infection. Lead by Haley Lu Richardson, the movie follows Stella, an energetic and optimistic cystic fibrosis patient who’s spent her life in and out of hospitals. This clearly isn’t her first rodeo—she’s chummy with the nurses, her room is decorated with art, and her best friend Poe (who you’ll recognize as Moisés Arias of Hannah Montana) is staying just a few doors down.
What’s expected to be a run-of-the-mill visit quickly intensifies as soon as she sets eyes on Will. Played by Riverdale’s Cole Sprouse, Will is the jaded rebellious rich boy who’s a part of a clinical drug trial as a last effort to save himself but has already accepted his condition as a death sentence. He couldn’t be more opposite to Stella, the Type A, perfect patient who makes endless bucket lists in her Moleskine and builds apps in between treatments.
But Will’s handsome and snarky and he’s wearing drop-crotch sweatpants. How can Stella resist? You know how it goes.
From there, the two stir up an illicit hospital romance, syncing their treatments, going on dates in the atrium, and FaceTiming, all while managing to make the six feet between them feel like a long distance relationship. The title comes from the “six-foot rule,” which recommends that CF patients stay two meters apart from one another to reduce the threat of transmitting germs. The “five feet” part comes from the 12 inches they decide to steal back in order to be closer.
In one of the most memorable scenes from the film, a poolside date in the hospital ends with the two stripping down to their underwear, revealing their bodies to each other—scars, g-tubes, and all. While innocent on the surface (they can’t even kiss!) this moment of vulnerability feels far more intimate than any clumsy first-time sexual encounter a Hollywood studio could throw our way.
Aside from this, Five Feet Apart doesn’t do much to update or subvert the sick kids in love genre (consider 2015’s critically lauded Me And Earl And The Dying Girl if that’s what you’re looking for). After all, it’s still a story about attractive, relatively privileged (the hospital they stay in has endless amenities) white teens falling for each other. But Stella is a welcome refresh to the teen romance heroine—she’s smart, empowered, and vocal about what she wants.
Still, the movie is still facing its fair share of criticisms. There’s some pretty cringey dialogue, and advocates are already challenging the film for how unrealistic its depictions of cystic fibrosis are (they really do play it fast and loose with the six-foot rule).
Most of the time, Five Feet Apart doesn’t seem like it’s trying to be a movie about cystic fibrosis patients in love, but rather a movie about kids in love who just happen to have cystic fibrosis. After all, when you’re 18 and in love, everything does feel like it’s life or death. In the case of Will and Stella, the only difference is that the stakes are real.
Five Feet Apart is out in theatres now. Watch the trailer below.