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‘Five Feet Apart’ charms and devastates

| Monday, April 8, 2019

Claire Kopischke | The Observer

It’s a lot like “The Fault in Our Stars.” Except they both have cystic fibrosis instead of cancer. And Cole Sprouse is in it.

That is how I would summarize “Five Feet Apart” to my friends or to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet. But that’s just the superficial stuff.

Once I had seen the movie, I realized there was a lot more to the story. Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) — who is very appropriately named for her bright personality — has had cystic fibrosis since she was very young. The story starts with her latest admission to Saint Grace hospital for a tune-up. Her lungs currently function at 35%, and this latest visit increases the hope that she will soon receive new lungs from the transplant list.

It is during this most recent stay that she meets Will (Cole Sprouse). Will also has cystic fibrosis, but his comes with a serious complication, the bacteria known as B. cepacia. Once contracted, this bacterium significantly reduces the possibility a patient will receive new lungs; it seems to thrive in the symptoms of standard cystic fibrosis — excess phlegm — and it also feeds off of penicillin. Will has lost a lot of hope, and thus he carelessly ignores his treatments even though he is admitted to Saint Grace as part of a new drug trial specifically for patients with B. cepacia.

Will adds a new variable to the normal equation of Stella staying in Saint Grace, with her best friend Poe Ramirez (Moisés Arias) by her side. As if cystic fibrosis isn’t enough, Stella also has self-diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder, branding her a control freak. Aside from her daily to-do list and insanely organized medication cart, she codes an app to alert her of her treatments scheduled throughout the day. And when Stella realizes that Will isn’t doing his treatments, let’s just say she doesn’t take it well.

The two soon strike a deal that they will routinely complete their treatments together over FaceTime, because the most important rule of cystic fibrosis is that patients must remain at least six feet apart from each other at all times so as not to put themselves at risk for contracting each other’s bacteria. In exchange for easing Stella’s stress about his treatments, Will asks to draw her. Will is constantly drawing and doodling, contributing to a theme of artwork that runs throughout the story.

Stella’s older sister Abby’s artwork decorates the walls of her room in Saint Grace. Stella and Abby are the only two children in their family, who have just recently gotten divorced. Stella grapples with this new development, while Poe struggles through his latest breakup with a boy named Michael. Will’s father is not present in his life, but his mother constantly checks up on him. He has moved from hospital to hospital throughout his life due to his mother’s constant search for better options for him. So, when he lands at Saint Grace, he does find a reason to be optimistic — and that reason is Stella.

The two butt heads at first, as can be guessed from their opposing personalities and attitudes about life. But slowly they begin to understand each other, and they eventually get closer, bonding over their disease.

Once they begin to realize they have feelings for each other, Stella commits her first of many rebellious acts by declaring that she can take one foot back from cystic fibrosis since it has taken so much from her. Thus, the title of the film: “Five Feet Apart.” Will and Stella maintain this reduced distance for the rest of the story, though not without other attempts to bridge the gap.

The soundtrack compliments the film nicely, although using M83’s song “Wait,” which was also used in “The Fault in Our Starts” comes across as unoriginal. Of all the songs, though, this one stood out the most to me.

I can’t say any more without seriously spoiling the film, but just know there are so many other plot points I cannot mention. So go see it! It’ll be sure to make you cry, but in a cathartic way!

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