YA Romance, Five Feet Apart, Brings New Awareness To Cystic Fibrosis


When it comes to the terminally-ill romance drama genre, many people who suffer from a disease are concerned that audiences will be ill-informed and come out with a romanticized presentation of a fatal illness. And while Five Feet Apart may have cliche and predictable scenes for theatrical purposes, the team worked hard to present a genuine portrayal of the complexities and challenges people with Cystic Fibrosis face.

Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes lung infections and inhibits the ability to breathe over time. According to the the Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Foundation, more than 70,000 people worldwide are living with CF and approximately 1,000 new cases of CF are diagnosed each year. Currently there is no cure; however, the director, Justin Baldoni hopes the film would provide a positive opportunity to increase awareness of CF.

Baldoni dedicated the film to Cystic Fibrosis patient and YouTuber, Claire Wineland, who he worked alongside with during the production of My Last Days, a documentary that shared the stories of young adults dealing with illness. Her story and many others inspired Baldoni to direct Five Feet Apart so people could see a glimpse into the reality of CF.

The story begins with Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson), a patient at St. Grace Regional Hospital who has been dealing with Cystic Fibrosis since childhood. She spends her time coding apps, organizing her pills into perfectly color-coded rows, and writing down to-do lists for each day as she bides time for a lung transplant.

With the care of maternal head nurse Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) and her  best friend Poe (Moises Arias), a fellow long time patient, she makes the hospital feel like a second home.

Charming, rebellious, and fellow CFer Will Newman (Cole Sprouse) has arrived to undergo an experimental clinical trial, and his dismissive attitude toward his own treatment challenges the clinically OCD Stella. Despite their initial quarrel, Will agrees to do his medication with Stella as long as she agrees to let him draw her. Hesitantly, she gives in and their romance sparks, but due to the risk of cross-infection, the two must stay six feet apart at all times.

The denial of touch poses the question of how Stella and Will are ever supposed to connect when they are restricted to maintain a safe distance. A simple touch of the hand, cough, or sneeze can put both of their lives at risk.

At the sudden realization that she hasn’t been living her life to the fullest, Stella says “this whole time I’ve been living for my treatment, instead of doing my treatment so that I can live.” In this line, the entirety of the film is captured. The two characters, albeit, opposites to one another,  inspire each other to live for the moment and add a balance to each other’s life in a way neither thought they needed.

As their connection deepens, so does the temptation to break the rules and embrace all that life has to offer. So, in an attempt to take back what Cystic Fibrosis has taken from her, Stella takes away one foot. Using a pool cue to measure five feet, Stella and Will secretly go on their first date at the hospital pool. This scene is electric with energy, as the young lovers ache to truly know and understand each other.

For the sake of leaving this review spoiler-free, the last 30 minutes left the viewers at the edge of their seat, reaching for the tissues. In the final scene, Stella reminds the audience that there is power in love and human connection. From the second we are born, human touch is essential to survival and while it may seem miniscule, the lack of it can be detrimental to our livelihood, so we should never take it for granted. Baldoni devoted his first role as director to the chance to bring awareness to Cystic Fibrosis in a beautiful, honest way that is eye-opening to the real limits people with CF endure. Five Feet Apart is truly worth the watch.