Opening 20 Jun 2019
Teenagers Stella (Haley Lu Richardson), Will (Cole Sprouse), and Poe (Moises Arias) are long-term patients. Contrary to the usual patients who share hospital rooms in a sterile atmosphere, they each have a single room, decorated with posters, photos, clothes, and much stuff, making them probably even more comfortable then their bedrooms at home. Like all teenagers, they sit on their beds in front of their computers, iPads or mobile phones to text or to talk to each other via skype. Will is a talented artist; Poe dreams of becoming a chef cook. All would be well except that they are suffering from a long-term fatal illness: cystic fibrosis, which causes breathing problems, requires oxygen tanks, and depends on regular medication. Will suffers also from B cepacia, a bacteria so dangerous that he must keep a five-feet distance from other patients. This works fine; they still interact with the nursing staff, (especially Barb, a specialist for breathing, played by Kimberly Hebert Gregory), their parents, and their friends who visit. They run all over the hospital from the cafeteria to the outdoor roof terrace to the swimming pool to the intensive station for new born infants. Five feet are not a problem until Stella and Will fall in love. How to show love without touching each other, not to mention plain old sex?
Director Justin Baldoni has had experience with people suffering fatal diseases. He produced a documentary TV series called My Last Days (2012) for which he interviewed patients. He became close to one of them, Claire Wineland, who died, and he dedicated this film to her. Perhaps, this experience helps Baldoni endure repeated discussions about dying: “the last breath and then dark.” “Treatment follows treatment; better that life follows treatment.” “Life is too short to waste even one moment.” “There is only one life.” It’s more difficult for the average viewer, however, who wonders how will this end and when. It’s definitely 20 minutes too long. Perhaps this film appeals more to an American audience (filmed in Los Angeles and New Orleans), where health insurance is an issue. Poe turns 18 and wonders who will now pay his bills. Still, stories of hospital life have always enjoyed popularity. There are many, all the way back to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and earlier, up to more recently: Patients (2016), Bucket List (2018) or even Die Goldfische just this March 2019.
Most extraordinary here are young actors Richardson, Sprouse, and Arias. We can hopefully look forward to seeing them in new films with scripts more complimentary to their talents. After writing the script, Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis brought in Rachael Lippincott, and together they turned the film script into a book for young people, also called Five Feet Apart. (Becky Tan)