In the wake of the immensely popular 2014 film “The Fault in Our Stars” Hollywood has cranked out numerous films with lovers dealing with serious illness. “Everything, Everything,” “Midnight Sun” and “Me Before You,” are just a few titles of the subgenre that continues to grow in popularity among young audiences. This subgenre causes a very obvious shift toward a specific, identifiable and packaged mode of romantic storytelling, and “Five Feet Apart” falls right in line.
However, if first-time director Justin Baldoni would have been more confident in his storytelling ability and not fallen into the clichés of Hollywood, his underlying message of drawing attention to cystic fibrosis could have been received.
The film follows Stella Grant, played by Haley Lu Richardson, as she struggles with the intense treatment of her cystic fibrosis. Her world of strict dedication to her treatment schedule is blown up when she meets the new bad boy in the hospital wing, Will Newman, played by Cole Sprouse. Aside from avid watchers of CW television shows or perhaps fans of “The Fault in Our Stars,” this premise is enough to push away most moviegoers. The film follows the current money-making template for Hollywood romance.
The mere predictably of the film is enough to drag the nearly two-hour runtime, but the lack of a convincing screenplay and wooden acting from melodramatic star Sprouse grinds the film to halt before the end of the first act. The only actor on screen who seems comfortable is Richardson. In every scene, Richardson is desperately trying to fuel the film with any semblance of hope, and she does a good enough job to hold the audience’s attention.
Baldoni’s directorial choice to follow the beaten path of young adult illness love stories is irritating because he causes his positive message about fighting cystic fibrosis to come off as exploitative rather than genuine. His message is one that could have had a lasting impact, especially within the realm of Hollywood influence. Unfortunately, Baldoni chose to package his potentially widely impactful message according to the Hollywood formula for young adult romances, and this causes Baldoni’s beneficial intentions to come off as deceitful. Baldoni and Sprouse’s melodramatic influences from their work on CW seized their film’s positive message and forcibly fused in their packaged concept of ideological love, and the final product is a jumbled mess.
Overall, the film fulfills every expectation of this subgenre and steals away a potential message in doing so. Richardson tries, in every scene, to breathe life into the exhausting film, but not even an actor of her prowess could save this overwhelmingly cliche film. Cystic fibrosis is an important topic that Hollywood has the influence to positively affect, so hopefully in the near future a more capable director could take awareness down a more beneficial path.
Cole Fowler is an English junior and columnist for The Battalion.