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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Five Feet Apart is based on the best-selling YA novel about Will (Cole Sprouse) and Stella (Haley Lu Richardson), two hospitalized 17-year-olds with cystic fibrosis (CF) who fall in love. Since the guideline for CF patients is that they should stay a minimum of six feet apart from each other due to the danger of cross-infection, the title refers to the one foot the pair "take back" to be a tiny bit closer as their love story develops. Language isn't frequent but includes a use of "f---ing," plus "s--t," "bulls--t," "a--hole," etc., and a few references to sex (or lack thereof). Will and Stella aren't supposed to touch, much less kiss (saliva exchange would be deadly, as one of them has a serious bacterial infection), so there's no sex, although they do undress down to their underwear in one romantic scene. The movie, which had a CF consultant, has been divisive within the CF community; some members are happy to see more awareness for the disease, which affects about 30,000 in the U.S., and others worry that the movie romanticizes the illness or misleads able-bodied audiences. Ultimately, the story promotes treasuring those closest to you and has themes of perseverance and empathy.
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What's the story?
FIVE FEET APART is one of a growing number of YA book-to-screen adaptations about teens who fall in love under life-and-death circumstances. Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) is a kind, rule-following 17-year-old cystic fibrosis (CF) patient who's back in the hospital for a "tune up" when she meets rule-breaking 17-year-old Will (Cole Sprouse), who also has CF and is in the hospital. CF patients are supposed to stay at least six feet apart from one another to avoid contagious infections that could worsen their already precarious condition. Stella is patiently awaiting a lung transplant, while Will, who's tested positive for a dangerous bacteria called B. cepacia, can barely remember to take his meds. The two begin a tentative friendship and flirtation that eventually (and predictably) leads to romance. Stella helps Will be more disciplined with his treatments, and he helps her learn to seize the day. But the seemingly insurmountable question remains: Can two people who can't touch really be together?
Is it any good?
This love story requires some suspension of disbelief, but its charming stars and and tear-jerking romance will appeal to fans of The Fault in Our Stars. That doesn't mean audiences should expect as much heartbreak as in FiOS, but the "dying teenagers sharing an intense first love" is definitely a theme of Five Feet Apart, too. Richardson in particular is very talented, and she and Sprouse have just enough spark to make it work, although Stella and Will's romance isn't as swoon-worthy as Hazel Grace and Gus' or as adventurous as Maddy and Olly's. After all, Stella and Will can not, must not touch, so their relationship is limited to conversations and endless longing looks. For some inexplicable reason, their parents are rarely on the hospital floor (in sharp contrast to similar films in which parents sit vigil day after day), and the teens interact mostly with kind, maternal Nurse Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory). And Moises Arias stands out as Poe, Stella's hospital bestie and fellow CF patient. Poe supports the idea of Stella, who apparently also has OCD, "dating" Will, even though it puts her at great risk of losing her transplant eligibility.
Because the movie is almost wholly set in the hospital, the plot sometimes feels slow and predictable, and the teens' level of access to all parts of the facility seem far-fetched, considering that such a large hospital would definitely have more attentive security. And the fact that the teens somehow throw a Pinterest-level dinner party is flat-out unbelievable (even with the reason provided). Still, the story will undeniably tug at viewers' heartstrings, and given Sprouse's popularity (thanks to Riverdale), there's surely an eager fan base ready to see him fall in love, no matter how sad the circumstances.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what Five Feet Apart teaches viewers about cystic fibrosis. Do you know more about the illness than you did before you saw the movie?
The movie has been somewhat controversial within the CF community, even though there was a CF consultant on the film. Do you think movies need to represent every aspect of an illness or disability accurately? Is there value in creating awareness even if a portrayal isn't 100% realistic?
If you've read the book, how does the movie compare? Which do you like better? Why?
Why do you think people like stories about sick teens so much?
- In theaters: March 15, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: June 11, 2019
- Cast: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Claire Forlani
- Director: Justin Baldoni
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship
- Character Strengths: Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, language and suggestive material
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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