Tearjerker of the Year
Weepies fans should get out all their handkerchiefs in order to watch this tearjerker of the year. Five Feet Apart is a deliberate attack on your tear ducts and expertly wrings every drop of empathy, sympathy and puppy-dog love out of the worst curmudgeon. Even Scrooge will turn into a humanitarian after being awash in good wishes for the main characters.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Every once in a while we need a good heart-wrenching film. It cleanses the soul. Remember Love Story with Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal in 1970? We got that sappy saying “love means never having to say you’re sorry” out of that movie. Go further back to 1937 and we had Barbara Stanwyck squeezing tears out of audiences with director King Vidor’s Stella Dallas. Barbara was banned from her daughter’s (Ann Shirley) wedding for Heaven’s sakes! Fast forward to the 21st Century and we have a teen-age romance/medical tragedy to rip our hearts out.
Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will (Cole Sprouse) are teens who share the same disease (cystic fibrosis) at a hospital. Protocol is that they must stay six feet apart in order to prevent cross-contamination. They bend the rules by using a pool cue to keep them at a safe distance: thus the title of the film.
Stella, a beautiful young girl, is a stickler for staying to a strict regimen about taking her medication and remaining hygienically sterile. Will, of course, is a rebel with a devil-may-care attitude about adhering to any rules, let alone medical ones. Not only is he a rebel, but he is knock-down handsome and sexy. As nature has it, opposites attract, and nothing will keep these two hormonally combusting teens apart.
Sprouse attracted audiences’ attention on the recent television series Riverdale and earlier with his twin brother Dylan in the Disney series The Suite Life of Zak & Cody. He has many giggling girl fans that will eat up this film. Of course, they are correct in their adulation. One smile from that dark-eyed devil will crumple them like a sheet of tin foil. And that’s exactly what happens to Stella. She can’t resist him, although she must. Any contact with him physically could mean both their demises.
So, they meet cute, get to know each other cute, and ruffle nurse Barb’s (a funny Kimberly Hebert Gregory) feathers in a cute way. The poor nurse is like a mother hen who constantly looks out for their welfare to keep them alive.
The kids are teens and want to have fun. Stella has a best friend in fellow patient Poe, played by the woefully sad-looking Moises Arias. He’s her token gay friend, but she loves him and protects him. Poe assures Will that he may be gay, but he is not hitting upon him. Will takes it in stride and just laughs about it, which is a modern 21st century attitude.
Will is undergoing experimental drug treatment which may or may not work. It colors his outlook on life because he knows he may not live long. But hope springs eternal, and he maintains a good attitude as does Stella. The two fall in love at a distance and bond like cement glue.
Richardson, a bright and sprightly young lady, is charming in her role. Sprouse plays the bad boy with élan, which makes him all the more attractive to Stella. Audiences will have their hearts broken throughout the film as one crisis after another befalls the two lovers.
Director Justin Baldoni and screenwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis have devised one of the most beautiful and touching final scenes ever put on film. It is cleverly designed to convey heartbreak, love and devotion. I dare you not to burst into tears.
(Released by Lionsgate/ CBS Films and rated “PG-13” for thematic elements, language and suggestive material.)