If you’re further away than ‘Five Feet Apart’ for this movie, you’ll be better off

“Five Feet Apart”
Thematic elements, language and suggestive material.
Playing at: Alamo Drafthouse, Premiere Cinemas and Tinseltown 17.
Credits: Directed by Justin Baldoni. Written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Taconis. Cinematography by Frank G. DeMarco. Music by Brian Tyler and Breton Vivian. Edited by Angela M. Catanzaro. Production design by Tony Fanning. Art direction by Kelly Curley. Set decoration by Bradford Johnson. Costume design by Rachel Sage Kunin.
Cast: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Claire Forlani, Moises Arios and Kimberly Hebert Gregory.

Bill’s rating: Two of five stars

Tears do not always signify approval in a darkened theater. True, manipulative scenes from a lesser filmmaker can enjoy brief emotional payoffs. On the other hand, consider the saddest movie in your memory. The former cannot be compared to the latter.

The Boy loves busting me, telling the family, “Papa cried at the movie.” Most of those instances arrived after we were caught up in a well-directed story. After all, I love becoming involved to the extent that I laugh and cry with characters.

On the other hand, it isn’t unheard of for a movie to predictably kill off a likable character, as the director hopes for a reaction similar to that after killing a family pet on screen.

I mention this because the present red-hot date movie for teens, “Five Feet Apart,” finds director Justin Baldoni doing his best to manipulate rather than entertain. And a couple of times, my darn tear ducts ignored orders from my brain. Because while the loss of a best friend and the certain demise of innocents may be sad cinematic moments, “Five Feet Apart” remains an insulting film.

Following in the footsteps of “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” superior efforts, “Five Feet Apart” introduces Stella, a hospitalized cystic fibrosis (CF) patient. She and a fellow young CF patient named Will meet and after comparing scars, quickly develop even deeper feelings for one another.

The challenge: These two patients must remain five to six feet apart; ignoring this rule increases the risk of cross bacterial infection. In fact, nurse Barbara is determined this will not happen.

Meanwhile, Baldoni, after introducing a potentially sweet romance, spends the rest of the movie wringing every ounce of tragedy from scenes as the story is transformed into the worst sort of melodrama.

Indeed, watching “Five Feet Apart” makes one wonder whether the screenwriters and Baldoni even once researched a working hospital, or bothered to converse seriously with contemporary teenagers.

Respected young actress Haley Lu Richardson is solid, if not believable, as Stella.

That is because believability cannot share a time zone with a young patient allowed to keep her own Med-Cart in her hospital room, thus making it easier for her to distribute her own medications.

Say what?

The dangers of sharing space with a fellow CF patient had been drilled into her. So why would any thinking human being – even a lonely, sensitive, thinking human being – risk one or both lives by disobeying rules?

Lack of logic and believability mushrooms when CF patients transform a hospital room into something akin to a party feast and one’s eyes cannot help but roll when heroic sacrifice follows the cracking of ice during a brain-dead outdoor excursion.

“Close your eyes,” one character says and this may be the film’s wisest advice.

Richardson does impress as Stella; she previously made a name for herself in the film “Columbus,” which I’ve not seen. Cole Sprouse play Will, providing few memorable scenes. Faring much better is young Moises Arias as another winsome CF patient in the same hospital, a gay man who has become Stella’s best friend.

Performances, however, cannot make these characters any more believable.

Gage’s rating: Three of five stars

Few movies surprise me by being more enjoyable than I walked in expecting. “Five Feet Apart” is a partial exception. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, but in no way would I call this a good movie.

The premise is that two teenagers, Stella and Will, are battling cystic fibrosis in the hospital. They fall in love over the course of a couple of months. They must stay five feet apart to limit the possibility of cross-infection; contracting bacterial infections from other CF patients can be life-threatening.

I never really bought into the entire plot point that, if I have a serious medical condition and I also am madly in love with someone, I will risk my life and theirs to be together.

I can hardly imagine how a long distance relationship would work out with these two.

I did, however, love Moises Arias’s performance as Poe, a gay teen with CF who is best friends with Stella. Poe often is hilarious and Arias grants the movie a wonderful flair. I wish we’d been given more of his character. Instead, Poe’s fate may provide the film’s darkest moments.

Will is problematic throughout. I never connected with Cole Sprouse as this character. The writing could also be to blame, as Will is never a very original character.

Luckily, Haley Lu Richardson is terrific as the inconsistent Stella. She sells her role as a teenager who not only must struggle with being sick, but also bears the burden of self-guilt after her sister dies. Richardson delivers a great performance that stayed with me.

Overall, though, this is your typical “date night” movie for those who loved such movies as “The Fault in Our Stars.”

The movie did not bring me to tears but, judging from the tears flowing around me, others were much more connected to the story and characters.