Five Feet Apart Film Review
On Sunday night, my husband and I got away from our fun boys for a few hours on a rare date night. Our plan was to go see the new movie, Five Feet Apart.
Justin & Fred:
I wanted to see it as soon as I heard that Justin Baldoni was the director. Justin Baldoni is set apart from many in the Hollywood scene because he cares about things like reaching out to help and love on the homeless. He started a block party in 2017 called Carnival of Love, where the Wayfarer Foundation organized haircuts, music, massages, hugs, and many other ways to let the homeless people of Los Angeles know that their community sees them and loves them. Justin also started his own production company called Wayfarer Entertainment that focuses on producing media with heart. Their first project, which became an ongoing series, allows people fighting terminal illnesses a chance to tell their very important stories through media.
Justin Baldoni's work reminds me of Fred Rogers'. Fred saw the earliest days of television filling air-time with things like the Three Stooges. He couldn't fathom why anyone would use such a powerful tool to throw pies at people.
"I got into television because I saw people throwing pies at each other's faces, and that to me was such demeaning behavior. And if there's anything that bothers me, it's one person demeaning another," he confessed to Amy Hollingsworth, author of "The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers." "That really makes me mad!" (Link to story here.)
Fred seemed to ask the question, "Why would we use media to tear down rather build something important?" Justin, it seems, asks the same important questions. Justin is a father to two young children and often shares his personal life with his talented and thoughtful wife through his social media account. Each post is honest and encouraging and is focused on the love they want to give to their children and the hope that they have for the futures.
So, when I heard that Justin Baldoni was directing this movie, I knew it would speak of the human heart and I knew I had to see it. It did not disappoint.
My Last Days: Zach Sobiech
My Last Days: Claire Wineland
The Characters (No Spoilers):
There are no spoiler alerts here. I'm sticking to what you can gain from trailers or pre-release descriptions and discussions. You're welcome. :)
I'll be honest. We had to finish baseball practice for our oldest son before we could go to the movie. We were 9 minutes late - after the previews! Oh no! So I don't know what happened in the first 9 minutes. I need to go back and see it - I'll tell you that much. :) However, we picked up the storyline quickly.
Stella is a young girl with Cystic Fibrosis who tries to control as much as she can about her life with an incredibly difficult and often, life-threatening disease. She has developed protector parts to keep her safe and independently managing her meds and routines for self-care has given her back some of that control. She finds meaning in sharing her journey via YouTube videos to encourage others with CF. Stella meets Will, who also has CF, in the hospital and immediately senses his deflection of not caring for rules and regimens. She dislikes him for this, but is driven to help him develop his own interest for self-care and autonomy over his regimens. She learns that Will has contracted a bacterial infection, Burkholderia cepacia, that is antibiotic resistant and incredibly dangerous for those with Cystic Fibrosis.
Wikipedia says, "B. cepacia is an opportunistic human pathogen that most often causes pneumonia in immunocompromised individuals with underlying lung disease (such as cystic fibrosis or chronic granulomatous disease). Patients with sickle-cell haemoglobinopathies are also at risk."
Will is in a trial at the same hospital to try to battle the infection. Will's character has also developed protector parts to cope with the emotional aspects of Cystic Fibrosis. His is an air of indifference in a world that only promises him death.
The film is the story of how each character helps the other grow internally, understanding death and life in a new way. Stella recognizes this and reflects on her growth. As she shares in the trailer, she says, "This whole time, I've been living for my treatments, instead of doing my treatments so that I can live."
Five Feet Apart Trailer
Pre-Release Film Critiques, Praise & Concerns from CF Advocates:
Before I talk about the film, I think it's important to talk about what others are saying about it. The actors and team were coached by a Cystic Fibrosis advocate, Claire Wineland, who passed away in September of 2018 before the film's completion. Claire coached the actors on perfecting their CF cough. She inspired the decorations for Stella's hospital room.
There are many Cystic Fibrosis advocates who say that the six feet rule (not five) is for when you're outside and wearing a mask. Two CF patients would not be in the same room, let alone six feet apart when indoors. So some of them have concerns about the messages the film could send to CF fighters. Claire Wineland also warned, "Don't try this at home" with some of the ways that the writing and directing team had to break safety rules for those with CF in order to produce a story. "However, it's a wonderfully well-written love story and she (Claire) credited most CFers with understanding all about precautions and specific guidelines." (From this Instagram Post) Claire's Place Foundation was proud of her work and shares this in many ways on their Instagram page. They also share stories of how they help individual families through hospital stays. You can donate to Claire's Place Foundation.
There were moments in the film that my suspension of disbelief was waining. For instance, it seemed unlikely that nurses would care for one patient after another without totally scrubbing or gowning up, at the risk of spreading bacteria or germs on their clothing. I realize that some realities cannot be shown within the time constraints of a two-hour film, but a hint that this is happening would have sufficed. Some advocates who live with Cystic Fibrosis feel that Hollywood is benefiting financially while not telling the whole story. Justin Baldoni defends his story with the need to tell a story within that time constraint. As a creative, I am sure just the telling of a good story arch gives a screenwriter additional constraints. It also really depends on who the audience is. It seems that the audience goal is twofold: CF awareness for the masses and the chance for those living with CF to be seen for the fact that they are whole and wonderful people.
A good story speaks deep truths to us. It can't always include every factual detail. A better place for that sort of information would be a case study or a research paper. This story is meant to move us and perhaps to compel us to act.
Ahhhh now for the film.
It's beautiful. At first, a few quiet tears trickled down my cheek when we learn more about the characters' lives. Then another tear and another begin to form in my eyes as I learn about hospital stays of the past, risks of surgery, and loved ones lost. Before I knew it, I was using my sweater edge at my eyes so I could catch the tears and continue to watch, rather than sift through my purse for a tissue. There were certainly deep emotional truths in this film. These truths spoke to me.
Suspension of Disbelief - Visceral Success:
At one moment, I leaned over to my husband to whisper something I had noticed about the film. He whispered back, "I almost told you to get away from me. I physically had a sense that you shouldn't be that close to me." My body tightened with stress in moments even though I was watching a love story, which isn't a typical love story response! Never had I grown so stiff and worried that a couple in love in a film might actually get too close. It created a physical reaction of stress for me which was surprising.It was fantastic! I was connected and getting "all the feels."
I had a few story hang-ups. There is a moment of transition between when Stella avoids Will and when she wants to help him with his medication organization and CF Regimen. Stella's character doesn't have enough of a purpose or story flow for her to go against what she knows can harm her. There would certainly ways of accomplishing that help by use of video conferencing, etc. For me, the story lost some flow in this early part.
Showing; not telling.
There are different scenes where we watch Stella as she deals with the daily aspects of her regimens. We hear bits of stories from her past YouTube channel videos of how life with CF has affected her whole family or how her life's path was formed from the disease. By showing the bits, we can image the bigger picture. We get invited in to do this work. We also can pick up puzzle pieces we glimpse into the lives of Will and Stella's best friend, Po. Through dialogue and even quiet moments, we get slightly different pieces that allow us to put the puzzle together ourselves of what life with CF might look like for some.
Think of the best teacher you ever had. This teacher probably didn't lecture you daily and lay out all the facts for you, spoon-feeding you each bite. Rather, good teachers give choices and lay down puzzle pieces and allow us to put the puzzle together. Our best lessons come from self-discovery, from putting the pieces together, playing with them, taking them apart, and seeing what we can figure out. The most meaningful lessons require us to be involved. We walk away from our best lessons as changed people, ready to offer something new to the world. This film requires that of its viewers. In fact, we are invited into the story continually in new ways as it develops and even as it concludes.
Five Feet Apart is about a few teenagers who learn and struggle and love and feel while living with Cystic Fibrosis. But of course, at the same time, it's about much bigger themes that connect all humans all while inviting us in to learn and struggle and love and feel along with those characters; and then, even do something about it.
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My business is about providing art opportunities in the Altoona community as well as portraiture photography work. As a creative person, I like to dabble in other areas. Though If you would like to follow along, you can check out my last blog article or join my newsletter!