Heartfelt manipulation: Richardson nearly saves romantic drama 'Five Feet Apart'

(Left to Right) Hayley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse in FIVE FEET APART to be released by CBS FILMS and LIONSGATE. (Photo: Alfonso Bresciani, CBS Films)

"Five Feet Apart"
3 out of 5 Stars
Justin Baldoni
Writers: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis
Starring: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Claire Forlani
Genre: Romance, Drama
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and suggestive material

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SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: Two teens with cystic fibrosis, a terminal condition that causes mucus to form in the lungs , meet while receiving extended treatment in a hospital. Seemingly polar opposites, the teens warm to each other over time.

Review: We've been here before. Star-crossed lovers forbidden to be together despite wanting nothing more from life than to be together. In this case, the separation is mandated by medical reasons. Individuals who have cystic fibrosis are told to stay six feet apart at all times (the five feet aspect of the film's title is explained in the film's final act). Haley Lu Richardson stars as the optimistic extrovert Stella. Cole Sprouse plays Will, the brooding introvert. Moises Arias plays Poe, the gay friend who also has cystic fibrosis. Kimberly Hebert Gregory is Nurse Barb, the unofficial mother and protector of Stella, Will and Poe. Her relationship with Stella and Poe goes back years, Will feels like a new piece in the puzzle.

"Five Feet Apart" sets out to make you cry and is very likely to succeed. It also wants to give a face to cystic fibrosis while sticking to the standard tropes that powered "The Fault in Our Stars," "Everything, Everything" and "Midnight Sun." I don't think the film is very successful in that regard as every moment is pushed to its extreme for dramatic effect. Something more quiet without the gloss would have been more effective in giving audiences a real look at what life with cystic fibrosis is like.

The reality is that life isn't like it is in most movies. For all its bleakness, "Five Feet Apart" still glamorizes hospital life. It allows them moments that couldn't actually happen. I don't know if you can idealize a life with cystic fibrosis, but that's exactly what this film wants to do. Life is terrible, but the constant threat of death makes the highs more dizzying.

Still, Richardson is quite the actress and her performance helps to cover up the fact that we already know where and how the story will end. The character is overburdened with grief and frustration, but Richardson somehow infuses Stella with a blind optimism that, though clearly a smoke screen to hide the emotions beneath the surface, keeps the film from being a morbid march into the void.

Perhaps I've become to cynical, burdened by false expectations. When I go in search of films filled with longing and unattainable happiness, I'm more likely to watch a Kar-Wai Wong film, "(500) Days of Summer" or "The Age of Innocence." If "The Fault in Our Stars" is your favorite cry, you'll likely feel the same about "Five Feet Apart."

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