By: Felix Felicis (Six Pack) –
Ever have a chill run down your spine and don’t know why? Urban legends say that it’s a sign someone is walking over your grave. Urban legends are full of shit because every time I get a chill running down my spine it’s because someone, somewhere, just greenlit a teenage sick lit (a genre dedicated to the glorification of terminally ill star-crossed lovers and/or death, suicide and/or mental illness in young adults) cinematic adaptation which is, tragically, very on brand for my niche here at MovieBoozer. Sure, in a perfect world movies highlighting forgotten or under-represented areas in the spectrum of humanity would serve as a window into others’ lives so we may better ourselves by better understanding (and empathizing) with others. This isn’t that. This is SO VERY MUCH not that. Five Feet Apart is an agonizing, endless, painfully exploitative descent into what should never have seen the light of day.
Five Feet Apart follows the lives of several plucky teens living with cystic fibrosis as they navigate life, love, and the inevitability of their own mortality. You know, real uplifting stuff. Primarily we watch our intrepid heroine Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) as she stoically plods along through her extended hospital stay for cystic fibrosis “tune-up” treatments before, hark, our dark and broody rebel-without-a-cause love interest shows up (Riverdale‘s own Jughead Jones – Cole Sprouse as “Will Newman”) to show her how to really live. Pause to repress barf…. And we’re moving on. Surrounding Stella are an orbiting series of ancillary characters meant to encourage or block this union of two terminally phlegmy teens. Most notably fellow cystic fibrosis patient, Poe No-Last-Name (Stella’s gay best friend – more on that later – played by Moises Arias) and, Cthulhu help me, Nurse Barb (a wasted Kimberly Hebert Gregory) who each serve to push the plodding plot along in their own different, though equally traumatizing, ways. Much like anyone who bought a ticket to 1997’s Titanic, you know how this movie ends (or you should). If you don’t then our education system, much like the rest of America, has broken down and failed you. I mean, it totally already has, but still, you should know where this sick lit square-dance of doomed-before-it-ever-began love is gonna go.
They say misery loves company, and they’re one thousand percent correct because I somehow talked a friend into seeing Five Feet Apart with me. They’re no doubt, at this very moment, rethinking every decision they’ve made in their life that led up to them a) becoming my friend and b) agreeing to see what was no doubt going to be, at best, pandering, emotionally overwrought adolescent drivel.
The only emotion resembling joy or entertainment I took away from this silverscreen shart was dark, deeply disturbing humor at the film’s expense. At one point I was actively rooting for death by misadventure for one of the lead characters because, if one of them died, it could only mean my release from this eternal hospital-ridden hellscape. At no point in time did every molecule in my body not hate this movie. In a real Cinderella story, dark horse moment, Five Feet Apart has joined Alita: Battle Angel for co-worst movie of 2019 and is in a three-way tie for Worst Movie I’ve Ever Seen (Alita and Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets being the other two). Not even the three-eyed raven could’ve seen this shit coming. And that creepy mu’ffucker sees *everything*.
Five Feet Apart and how/why it came to be is almost as important a factor in experiencing the film as watching it. I’m normally not an advocate for allowing outside factors to impact my analysis of a film, but this narrative is loosely based on a real couple and their story is a hundred times more compelling than this commercialized, patronizing, exploitative, “star-crossed” (please picture sarcastic air quotes here, thanks) romance between two attractive teens… Young adults jussst sick enough (but not too sick to run around – sometimes literally), to look tragic with the bare minimum amount of time showing the debilitating toll that Cystic Fibrosis takes on those who fight it every day (with a neutered ending so tame it probably won’t try and hump your chaise lounge during dinnertime).
Basically Justin Baldoni (you know him as Rafael from Jane The Virgin) met Claire Wineland (a Youtuber with Cystic Fibrosis… coincidence?) and through the acquaintance conceived the idea (pun absolutely intended) to parallel a real-life CF couple’s love story (loosely and without contacting anyone in the family directly because LOLZ buying the rights to a life story is so lame when you could just mash it together with someone else’s life). I tell you that to tell you this: there is nothing in Five Feet Apart that isn’t an overwrought, tone-deaf, manufactured, and sanitized snapshot of a reality that actual human beings experience every day. This is a two-dimensional capitalization on a serious illness, embellished and polished to maximum, tragically “inspirational” (you know the drill with the air quotes by now) effect. I’m all for representation in cinema but Five Feet Apart is nothing more than a funhouse distorted mirror of skewed perceptions. I would actually recommend any Nicholas Sparks or John Green adaptation over giving Five Feet Apart one (literal) cent. Let that one sink in. Go ahead and marinate in that statement. I’ll wait.
There’s an SNL sketch out there somewhere missing plucky, heroically stoic, wildly stereotypical teens filled with wisdom and tempestuous passion in the face of adversity and death because Five Feet Apart stole them, flung them under a silverscreen steamroller and flattened out any individuality or creativity that might’ve accidentally made its way into the script. NO WORRIES HERE, FOLKS, JUST “GRADE A” PASTEURIZED ADOLESCENT MELODRAMA FOR YA – SO EASY TO DIGEST IT MAKES ACTIVIA LOOK LIKE IT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE YOUR POOPS EASIER AND IF JAMIE LEE CURTIS HAS BEEN LYING ABOUT THAT, WHAT HOPE IS LEFT FOR TERMINALLY ILL STAR-CROSSED TEENS TO FALL IN LOVE – WHY, CRUEL WORLD, WHY?!?
And you know, beyond anything resembling doubt, someone is going to die in Five Feet Apart (though I knew going in it wasn’t going to be a lead character) and the only other option that would’ve added any kind of emotional gut punch (and they FORESHADOW THE SHIT OUT OF IT) is Poe (extra tragically named for maximum angstyness). I have a problem with this on several levels. First, you JUST FUCKING FRIDGED AN LGBTQ CHARACTER PRACTICALLY ENSHRINING THAT TROPE IN THE “WORST IDEA EVER” HALL OF FAME PURELY TO CAUSE OUR HEROINE ANGUISH.
There was no need, beyond hollow lip service to inclusion, to make Poe’s character gay because the only time his sexuality is addressed at all, much less in relation to enriching the narrative (beyond tangential conversations about his love life to serve as a reminder to Stella to *carpe diem – *pursue a romance with her love interest) is when Will asks why Poe and Stella haven’t ever gotten together and Poe eases Will’s concerns over a romantic rival by disclosing his sexual orientation. SAY IT WITH ME, FOLKS: MEN AND WOMEN (OR ANY BINARY/NON-BINARY COMBINATION THEREOF) CAN CREATE RICHLY REWARDING PLATONIC FRIENDSHIPS WITHOUT REPRESSED SEXUAL UNDERTONES AND DO NOT EXIST PURELY TO SOOTHE THE MALE EGO AND/OR FRAGILE MASCULINITY OF MEN AND/OR ALLEVIATE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT ANOTHER MAN HAVING A STRONGER CLAIM TO ANOTHER’S “TURF”. I’m not saying there has to be a plot specific reason to make a character LGBTQ, but there are thousand why you shouldn’t if it’s solely meant to pave the way for a heterosexual romance (or heterosexual anything). Again, I (vehemently and frequently) advocate for inclusion and representation in cinema but Poe’s character in Five Feet Apart is practically a poster gay for how NOT to do it.
I was lead to believe (like a lamb to silverscreen slaughter), pre-film-plunge, that Five Feet Apart was a “more uplifting” sick lit story than your usual terminally-inspired genre fare… and it gave me the cruelest kind of hope (the futile kind). Because after watching this bloated balloon of a shitsicle, that’s kind of like saying if Jigsaw gave you a choice between fully-conscious-hotel-bathub-liver-removal and morphine-induced-coma-hotel-bathtub-liver-removal you’d find one more preferable than the other (COMA, ALWAYS CHOOSE COMA). You’re still gonna end up like Charlie after the Candy Mountain chloroform fog clears so you might as well go into it knowing that while our pair of phlegmy lovebirds (kind of) defy the odds (and technically *don’t* die before the credits roll) there’s a misleading kind of defiant optimism that Five Feet Apart is peddling throughout the film which is rendered about as null and void as a Ken Doll’s under-there-square (given the absolute bonkers logic these two pool-cue-weilding-fuckwits use for double-dutch jump-roping in and out of love) that makes you actually root *for* one of them to DIE ALREADY and END THIS but they JUST DON’T and it NEVER ENDS… IT JUST NEVER ENDS.
Which leads me to my next point. If you’re looking for the secret to eternal life (if joylessly slogging through a patronizing hellscape is your idea of paradise) then WHOO BOY HAVE I GOT THE FILM FOR YOU. From incoherent narrative bookends (if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times – narration is far too often the crutch of the uninspired or lazy storyteller – you know who needs a crutch? TINY TIM AND THAT’S IT, THAT’S WHO) to endlessly glacial pacing (I qualified for AARP by the time I made it out to my car afterward) to a story about as sexually charged as two Amish gerbils put in separate plastic balls and left to press tiny paws desperately against each other – separated by clear laminate – as they gaze longingly, with zero chemistry, into each other’s bulging eyeballs; Five Feet Apart is a patchwork quilt of abjectly dismal, soul-sucking disappointment.
The dialogue in Five Feet Apart was so full of insipid, overwrought, patronizingly sycophantic sick lit dialogue it could only have been written by caged sugar gliders fed a steady diet of Green Appletinis while huffing glue in a room with no ventilation or hope for escape and Me Before You on repeat until they were so full of word vomit their little mouths spewed miniature streams of actual vomit. Like if an exorcist failed with 14 teeny, tiny, furry possessed potatoes. I present to you Exhibits A through B(lergl):
Author’s Note: the following quotes are by no means precise but they’re in the ballpark.
“I wanna draw that sweat.” -Will
“I wanna travel the world, see some of it, not just the inside of a hospital.” -Stella
“Thank you.” – Will or Stella
“For what?” – Will or Stella
“For saying something real.” – Will or Stella
[Stella opens note from Will slipped under her hospital room door]
“Inside you’ll find my heart and soul, be careful.” – Will
[Will draws a cartoon]
“Why cartoons?” – Stella
“They’re subversive, they say a lot more than words ever could.” – Will
‘You’re about as delicate as a jackhammer.” – Stella
“We don’t have time for delicacies, we’re dying.” – Will
[Will moodily looks up infection symptoms, angrily shuts his computer… and LITERALLY DRAWS THE SPECTER OF DEATH, COWL AND SICKLE BOTH]
“This whole time I’ve been living for my treatments instead of doing my treatments so I could live. It’s life, Will, it’ll be over before you know it.” – Stella
And, the pièce de résistance:
[Will’s breakup video message to Stella]
“My beautiful, bossy Stella, I guess it’s true what they say, ‘the soul knows no time’, because this past month will last forever for me.”
You know, this one’s kind of on me for expecting anything resembling logic to apply to the ending (or any part) of a movie glorifying a sanitized love story about two death-adjacent teens (in real estate it’s all about location, location, location). Let’s say I accept that everyone lives in a hospital full time, no matter their illness, because we have spectacular universal healthcare in this parallel reality. Fine. Let’s also agree that I accept parents who seem as devoted to their children as these do show up fewer times during the course of Five Feet Apart than it would take to count on one hand (during the span of a freaking MONTH) to check on their TERMINALLY ILL CROTCH SPAWN. Cool. Totally legit. Cool cool cool. And I’ll even throw in absolute certainty that, when faced with the opportunity for a life-saving organ transplant, a logical and *totally sane* human being would leave that text on “read” to FUCK AROUND ON AN ICED-OVER POND WITH EDGAR-ALLEN-POE-NO-HE-DIIIIIDN’T LIKE AN EXTRA IN A DELETED SCENE FROM THE FIRST FANTASTIC BEASTS FLICK.
BUT WHAT KIND OF FUCKING *MONSTER* BREAKS UP WITH A GIRL THE NANOSECOND SHE WAKES UP FROM LIFE-SAVING SURGERY BECAUSE THEY HAD A *MAGICAL* AND *SELFLESS* REVELATION THAT TO LOVE SOMETHING MEANS YOU HAVE TO LET IT GO AND WHITE FANG YOUR BARELY-A-GIRLFRIEND BY *VIDEO TAPING YOUR BREAKUP SPEECH* AS SHE’S SURROUNDED BY FAMILY MEMBERS – IN ADDITION TO A TEAM OF DOCTORS – (WHILE INTUBATED AND *LITERALLY* *CANNOT* *SPEAK* – SO YOU HAVE SOMEONE PRESS PLAY) AS YOU STROLL UP TO HER WINDOW BACK-LIT BY A “ROMANTIC” SEA OF TWINKLY LIGHTS AND STARE AT EACH OTHER WHILE THIS POOR GIRL TRIES TO EMOTE AROUND A BREATHING TUBE USING LUNGS SO FRESH THEY STILL HAVE THAT “NEW CAR SMELL”.
By all means, don’t have Stella get lungs and catch Will’s bacteria making it possible for them to be together for however long that may be (like the real-life couple), nooooooooo, just have us suffer through a feature-length film to leave as frustrated as we started (don’t even give us the book ending where they meet at an airport eight-ish months later and walk over and stare at each other while standing five feet apart giving the audience a SLIVER of hope for the star-crossed couple). I mean, if you go for the really deep cut you could *maybe* interpret Five Feet Apart as a metaphor for sex in the post-modern millennial and categorize this crysterbation bonanza as the highest form of abstinence satire created since Reefer Madness… Or just accept that Five Feet Apart exists purely to wring money from the wallets of weepy teens who just have a lot of feelings. Which is literal hell for those of use who have none.
I’d settle for watching every copy of Five Feet Apart be destroyed in an “accidental” warehouse fire. Co-Worst Movie of 2019 (so far…).
Five Feet Apart (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever the rules about how to treat and/or manage cystic fibrosis are mentioned.
Take a Sip: for each example of plucky spirit in the face of adversity and/or mention of “CFers”.
Take a Drink: anytime Will is a dick, Stella is a closed-off control freak, and Poe is seen, heard, and/or behaves like a hipster foodie.
Do a Shot: during every bout of narration.
Shotgun Your Beer: for what is hands-down, in the history of the universe, the worst way to break up with a terminally ill girl. Or anyone who hasn’t wronged you in a past life.