As one of the five senses, touching is a vital component in one’s day-to-day life. However, some people are physically incapable of touching others and are therefore barred from the pleasures that can come from it. This limitation is something director Justin Baldoni sought to explore in Five Feet Apart, a romantic drama about two lovestruck teenagers who cannot hold hands, hug or kiss. It was written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, and stars Haley Lu Richardson as Stella Grant, its 17-year-old protagonist.


As discussed by Baldoni and the cast in the Blu-ray’s special features, the mission behind Five Feet Apart was a well-meaning one. They wanted to expand the public converversation of cystic fibrosis, and they sought to exhibit an emotional story. These points are emphasized and bookended by Stella at the beginning and ending of the film, where she reminds the audience about how vital the sensation of touch is. Our formal introduction to her is effective, showing her relaxing with friends until they depart, leaving her crestfallen and isolated in what’s revealed to be a hospital room. She dons her nasogastric tube and tries to remain upbeat despite the sterile, lonely environment she resides in, using social media to cope with her situation. She favors YouTube, where she post vlogs that serve as exposition to describe the stipulations that come with her disease and her mental state.

One day the hospital admits a new patient to the ward named Will (Cole Sprouse), a heartthrob dissatisfied with the rote routine forced upon him. He neglects to take his medicine, spurring the ire of Stella. She coerces him into taking his treatments under an agreement that he could draw her, and the pair quickly becomes smitten and start a relationship. While unfair to say their medical condition is irrelevant — they hold a pool cue between them, a visual reminder that they cannot touch — Five Feet Apart falls apart once the two start intimately associating. Their entire relationship should be poignant and tragic because it’s doomed to fail, yet the film never successfully carries the weight it needs to. The unique setting and premise are regrettably overshadowed by cliches and shallow dialog, and is ultimately carried solely by the strong performances of its cast, particularly Richardson.  

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