MANILA -- Stella Grant and Will Newman meet while undergoing experimental cystic fibrosis treatment at a hospital. Stella has an obsessive-compulsive personality, making her a stickler for following rules about her treatment. On the other hand, Will is her total opposite -- an artist and a rebel who does not care much for rules nor his medications. When the two eventually fall in love, they challenge convention and decide to take one foot back, using a pool cuestick to maintain a 5-foot distance between them instead of the usual six.
Romantic relationships between sick teenagers are a genre of its own, especially in recent years. The granddaddy of this type of terminal romance story line is probably "Love Story" (1970) with Ali McGraw's character afflicted with leukemia. "A Walk to Remember" (2002), "Now is Good" (2012) and "Me, Earl and the Dying Girl" (2015) were also about leukemia. "The Fault in Our Stars" (2014) had thyroid cancer, "Everything Everything" (2017) had severe combined immunodeficiency, "Midnight Sun" (2018) had xeroderma pigmentosum.
Justin Baldoni's "Five Feet Apart" joins that list this year, and tackles cystic fibrosis (CF). This is a genetic disorder that affects the lungs by clogging up its passages with thick mucus, which causes difficulty in breathing and makes them very much at risk for lung infections caused by atypical bacteria that require special antibiotics. Because of this, patients of CF are strictly advised to maintain a minimum 6-foot distance from fellow CF patients to avoid potentially deadly cross-infections among themselves.
The film was very educational for health professionals here, because this disease is inherited via a recessive gene which is more common among Caucasians, and is hence not usually seen on our side of the world. Thanks to Stella's informative social media vlogs, we learn a lot of useful information about CF, and the difficulties experienced by patients afflicted with it. We learn about other conditions associated with this disease, in particular nasal polyp surgery and lung transplantation.
Haley Lu Richardson was a warm and winsome Stella, whom you could not help but root for. Cole Sprouse plays the brooding bad boy Will whom she could not help but fall in love with. Like most teen romances, this one also had a talkative gay best friend character in the person of Poe (Marcus Arias), who was afraid to love because of his CF.
Their parents only showed up towards the end of the film (with Claire Forlani as Will's mom), but their de facto parent had been Nurse Barbara (Kimberly Hébert Gregory).
Of course, the development of the love story may have been too good to be true. It is highly unlikely that these stunts can actually happen in real life, especially since they were patients confined a hospital with nurses supposedly keeping watch over them. Sometimes the rules are not too clear with regards to infection control and precautions, especially when it comes to people they come in contact with, the things they use, or the activities they can do.
I think lapses in protocol have been breached in the interest of cinematic license. You do have to wait almost two hours to see who makes it or not, but there are smiles and tears along the way to make it worth your while.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."