Review: Five Feet Apart
Updated: Nov 17, 2019
Heads up: Due to the general nature of this movie, everything about this review is a major spoiler. Tread lightly.
Cole Sprouse’s good looks and charming voice won’t stop your tears. This movie is riddled with downers that even my hard-ass couldn’t handle. It’s a heavy movie, and it feels unreal that high schoolers are grappling with life’s most devastating, confusing, and frustrating realities. If you’re feeling up to the cathartic spell, go for it. Just grab a box of tissues and a hand to squeeze periodically throughout the movie (aka, every 5 minutes).
Quick summary (MAJOR spoilers):
Stella is an ambitious 17-year-old who happens to have Cystic Fibrosis – and a few quirks as a result of her chronic disease. She exudes positivity from the start of the movie. We see her laughing with friends before bidding them farewell as they embark on a vacation. Of course, with CF, she can’t join them. The crazy part is she’s ACTUALLY happy for them. Genuine happiness. We can all learn from Stella there. I can’t remember the last time I was genuinely happy for someone when my situation was less-than-great. It’s hard to do.
Her will to live is unrelenting, so she spends her days in the hospital staying on top of her self-administered treatment, to the point of obsessiveness. In this dichotomous situation, she is impassioned by health and self-care.
Enter Will, another 17-year-old (almost 18), who also has Cystic Fibrosis. She’s adorable and has her shit together; he’s edgy, hot, and does not have his shit together. When they meet, they instantly bump heads when it comes to their philosophies on life. He’s a skeptic about life, and she’s just grateful to still be alive. Opposites attract…you can do the math.
After a period of resistance, they concede to the inevitable. It’s go time...right? Not so fast – with Cystic Fibrosis, they’re not able to get close to each other. If they do, there’s a high chance they’ll exchange bacteria that could wind up threatening one, or both, of their lives. Love does crazy things, so six feet apart is the agreement. After a few dates and daily FaceTime sessions, they push the limit and remove one foot. Hence, five feet apart.
The rest of the movie follows their love story in the hospital, which includes their hospital friends, caregivers, and many ups and downs. Stella learns how to lighten up and enjoy the moment, and Will gains a sense of gratitude, despite his tough situation. Stella’s new philosophy: “I’ve been living for my treatments, instead of doing my treatments so I can live.”
After witnessing the tragic death of their good friend (another CF patient), Stella breaks down and decides to break the rules. They run away to go see “the lights,” because Stella has a special place in her heart for the look of the skyline at night. Their excursion is as beautiful as it is scary. Two kids on oxygen tanks with compromised lungs trekking two miles on foot through snow? Not a great idea. Like I said, love does crazy things.
Their adventure is full of bliss, at the expense of their lives. It comes to an abrupt end when Stella falls through a layer of ice, temporarily loses consciousness, and Will gives her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Both of their lives are endangered, but miraculously, neither of them contracted bacteria from each other. Until this point, the two lovebirds were defying every sign that pointed them away from each other. But after the life-threatening episode and the disappointing news that his treatment was not working, Will realized it was time to say goodbye.
The movie ends with their hands touching through a window. Will is outside Stella’s room, wearing his typical grunge garb, backpack slung over his shoulder, and side smile fully intact. He’s a good sport about it, but he’s sad to say goodbye. Tears stream down Stella’s face (and probably the face of anyone watching), as she grasps for a way to keep them together. Will has Stella on the phone and asks her to close her eyes because he wouldn’t be able to leave otherwise. She reluctantly closes her eyes and when she opens them and looks at the window, it’s just her hand. The end. Time to sob.
The final goodbye scene between Will and Stella is not the only sad scene of this movie. We see the death of another beloved character, we learn about the tragic death of Stella’s older sister, and we watch two beautiful souls get the short end of the health stick.
To put it simply, it’s a sad movie. During the final scene, my first response was disbelief.
There’s no way that after all of this, we’re going to have another cry fest. The entire movie developed around the love story of these two kids. At this point, there were enough sad moments, and I didn’t want another.
But then it made sense. No matter how strong their love is, their lungs are not.
“Life will be over before you know it” is Will’s mantra. It seems that his thought process was exactly this. He had a choice to make, and it made the most sense to make a choice that would give them both a little more time on this earth. It will hurt Will, and there’s no doubt Stella will be sad, but she’s been able to conjure happiness in the most impossible scenarios. She will be okay. As for Will, he’ll be okay too.
They both have conquered fears of the unknown, so my interpretation is this: Although they love each other, they’ve had to understand from a young age that life throws curveballs, there are things we simply can’t control, and survival is always the priority. Their situation totally sucks, but they’re both grateful that it happened. They exchanged life philosophies and taught each other a great deal – regardless of what happens from here, they will always be in each other’s hearts.
Surprise, surprise. It’s an ambiguous ending! My fill-in-the-blank ending is that “five feet apart” takes on a new, slightly more metaphorical meaning. Sometimes they keep in touch through text, social media, and the occasional FaceTime. They won’t be able to do their treatments at the same time as they used to, and their contact will have an unexplainable level of distance. The love is there, but they can’t fully experience or see each other in the way that they want to. Stella’s quality of life improves significantly with her new set of lungs, and she’s a bit preoccupied with the new lifestyle she adapts to. I’d also bet her parents reunite, or at least they'll come together a bit more for Stella's sake. They shared a cozy scene while awaiting her results.
Will is tough to peg. All we know about him is that his treatment wasn’t working. That doesn’t mean another treatment won’t work, and it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a shot at living for a few more years. But I’d guess that he doesn’t have much more in him. For someone cynical like Will, he grabs onto the tangible joys: turning 18 years old, feeling loved by his mom, falling in love with Stella, and being the reason why she survived. Will is probably satisfied with the life he’s lived.
He doesn’t have a zest for life like Stella does, but he’s appreciative of what he’s had. I can see him continuing to stay in touch with Stella as long as he can, and I think she’d want the same. His goal is for Stella to survive, and for that reason, he puts her life before his own. I wouldn’t call it giving up. I’d say it’s his sense of purpose and fulfillment in this world.
At the end of the day, we all want to feel like we have a purpose. Whether that means chasing your passion or being a great parent, falling into a blissful spell of love and passion or saving people’s lives, it means you wake up with meaning.
Stella found her purpose earlier than most. Her purpose is to live. She’s lost a lot of people who she was close to, and optimism is what got her through it all. Sometimes she got a little crazy with her to-do lists and organizational patterns, but it came down to a mission to survive.
Will didn’t have the same story. Stella gave him a new appreciation for gratitude. And for that reason, he’ll always be grateful to her. By the end of their story, he just wants her to find fulfillment because she gave him his fulfillment.
Yay or Nay
I'm still emerging from the emotional coma from this movie, but I’d give it a yay. We can all learn from Stella and Will. I’d say they’re both extremes coming from opposite ends of the spectrum: realistic and skeptical vs. hopeful and overly optimistic.
They both end up somewhere closer to the middle, and that’s something we can learn for sure—how to be flexible with your mindset.
We can also learn to be grateful for life. The movie ends with one of Stella’s YouTube videos. She waves goodbye to the audience and says, “So if you're watching this, and you're able, touch him. Touch her. Life's too short to waste a second.” Sure enough, after wiping away my tears, I reached over and squeezed my mom’s hand.
So yeah, I’d give it a thumbs up.