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Justin Baldoni's Five Feet Apart (2019): A Sick Lit Love Story With Heart and Some Schmaltz

In 2014, The Fault in our Stars, a teen novel by John Green, was released on screen, receiving mostly positive reviews. Yes, it was a love story about two teens with cancer, but it was told with such an honest and quirky voice that it rose above the average "sick lit" tale. Here was a teen to which readers/viewers could relate. In 2017, Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon, received the same treatment. This time, however, the story received less than stellar praise. Folks from the disabled community who were eager for representation in this movie were dismayed that the main character ended up not truly being sick (instead she's a victim of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy), adding to the many narratives featuring characters with disabilities or illnesses who are far from empowering.

Now in 2019, the newest "sick lit" story has come to the screen. In this case, however, the movie screenplay was written before the book. Five Feet Apart features Cole Sprouse as Will and Haley Lu Richardson as Stella as two teens who "meet cute" in the hospital because they are both patient with cystic fibrosis. While many people with CF and advocates have protested the movie for various reasons, I was curious to see how it would treat its characters and portray their lives.

Plot-wise, the movie contains many romance tropes. Will and Stella meet, argue, get close, argue again, form a friendship, spar, and bump heads. Will is surly and somewhat jaded; Stella shows symptoms of OCD and needs to control her environment. The main challenge is that no matter how much these characters long for touch, they can't do so, hug or kiss. To do so, might mean death for the other. This sets up the main conflict for our two characters. They have to stay six feet apart to avoid infecting one another.

This created some unique situations, the most intense being where the characters show their scars to one another. Normally, such a revealing would be paired with an intense and passionate make-out scene or perhaps even a sexual encounter. But these two can only look at one another. Creating a strange and surprisingly touching moment.

In addition to the romance, outsiders learn a lot about CF patients through Haley's eyes and through her many treatments. Her OCD makes it important that she be allowed to manage her own med cart. She also shows off her technological prowess by hosting a vlogging channel where she documents her days and building an app to help Will track his treatment plan. So she has dimension

Over all, I enjoyed the movie. It was cute, sweet, and funny, and the leads had good chemistry. The only flaw is typical of movies featuring characters who are ill. When characters in stories come down with an illness, it's a way to increase drama or tension. But with a character who is chronically ill, the illness becomes a part of life. One might think that a love story where two characters who can't touch would inherently contain ample amounts of tension as is. But no, the writers felt that it needed to create more tension by having extra tragic things happen, in order to raise emotions in the viewers. That's my only complaint. You don't need to shove the tragedy down our throats; it's already inherent to the situation in my opinion.

But Cole Sprouse looked nice, and there were some great tunes on the soundtrack. Medicine by Daughter especially stood out.


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