Friday, March 15, 2019

Lung Patients in Love: FIVE FEET APART

The latest teen weepy romance to play at something closer to realism than dystopia is Five Feet Apart. Set entirely in a hospital, mostly in a row of three rooms where teens are getting cystic fibrosis care, the movie creates its own little world of medical jargon and warm lighting. It’s its own sort of fantasy — shorn of insurance discussion, and with grief-stricken parents kept artfully to visiting hours, while the nastiest infections and fluids are left carefully off-screen — creating a closed world where a girl (Haley Lu Richardson), her gay best friend (Moises Arias), and the hot new guy (Cole Sprouse) can spend all day and some nights together, growing closer despite their medically-required need to stay apart. That some of the bonding takes place over FaceTime and texts while they're isolated from one another brings it one step out of the hospital and closer to the teen audience’s daily lives, while foregrounding how alone yet not alone the disease has left these kids. Because the girl is a YouTuber chronicling her fatal prognosis’ progression through her life, we get plenty of real detail about the disease, admirable primers and, undoubtedly, valuable representation for those so afflicted. But the movie, as directed by Jane the Virgin’s Justin Baldoni and scripted by the book's co-authors Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, is gauzier than it is unflinching, and more manipulative and sentimental than it is unsparing. It may be sensitively built around a real issue, and confidently buoyed by actors committed to digging into the real emotions therein, but it’s also not not a YA metaphor. There’s a scene where the girl, bruised and scarred, dripping sweat, hair stringy, looks at the boy for whom she’s falling — but whose bacterial infection would be fatal for her — and he looks back lovingly. She demurs, saying she looks awful. He disagrees. Isn’t that the wish fulfillment here? The romantic core burning straight through to the heart of the audience is thus: to feel seen as beautiful and worthwhile, even at your worst. That’s valuable enough. Is the movie manipulative on this score? Undeniably. But I was happy to let it play Geppetto on my heart strings. Richardson is heartbreakingly real as she presents her character’s pain, her youthful contemplation of mortality, and her relief at finding a connection with this brooding boy — however tenuous given their diagnosis, and circumscribed their interactions given the hospital rules. Is it often possible to make such a meaningful connection with a stranger while a patient in the hospital? Well, isn’t it pretty to think so?

No comments:

Post a Comment