When we first meet Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) she is rifling through a collection of swimsuits with her two girlfriends as they giggle about their next adventure. Unfortunately, and despite having planned the trip herself, Stella can’t go. After they leave she replaces her nasal cannula and proceeds to unpack her belongings. She’s just moved back into the cystic fibrosis ward of an unidentified hospital.
Five Feet Apart follows the story of Stella’s latest stint in hospital where she is reunited with her friend Poe (Moises Arias) and the practical but effervescent medical staff played by Kimberly Herbert Gregory, Emily Baldoni and Parminder Nagra.
What becomes abundantly clear is that none of this is new to Stella, and like the majority of CF patients she handles her own regimen. Her OCD in this regard is impeccable and amusing.
Shortly after her arrival she meets CF-er Will (Cole Sprouse) who seems uninclined to help himself or his condition. In true opposites attract from the bubbly Stella is immediately drawn to the risk-taking pessimistic Will.
Both at high risk of contracting each other’s infections they must stay six feet apart at all times. But as they grow closer and the desire to be closer becomes an unavoidable temptation, they throw caution to the wind: five feet apart…what could possibly go wrong?
In his directorial debut, Justin Baldoni (most recognised for his role as Raphael on Jane the Virgin) brings us a story of love and loss. Drawing to light the harsh reality of cystic fibrosis, a genetically terminal illness with no cure. The film addresses the never-ending treatments, surgeries and the nitty-gritty of a CF-ers day-to-day without sugar-coating, trivialising or throwing a Hollywood filter on it. In this regard, Baldoni triumphs.
Richardson’s performance is unequivocally the heart of this film and her ability to play the highs and lows of Stella’s story is as beautiful as it is tragic. In stark opposition we find Sprouse who delivers all the tropes of the wounded cool guy with a hidden earnestness that is a heart-warming and authentic.
Five Feet Apart centres entirely on the notion of human touch and the pivotal role it plays in all relationships: “Human touch; we need that touch from the ones we love almost as much as we need air to breathe.” This idea grounds the film, and the entire audience in a communal cinema experience that highlights the importance of shared humanity, where people laugh, cry, exhale and hold their breath at the same exact moments.
Trust me when I say that this is one of those movies you’ll be glad you saw.Five Feet Apart hits Australian cinemas tomorrow.
Review by Isabelle Aswad