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Arts

Film: Five Feet Apart a syrupy tear-jerker lifted by its stars' simmering chemistry

Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse in Five Feet Apart
Damon Smith

TWO hospitalised teenagers fall deliriously in love as they undergo treatment for cystic fibrosis (CF) in a cliched romantic drama directed by Justin Baldoni.

Five Feet Apart hopes to twinkle like The Fault In Our Stars and ruin fragile young hearts like Everything, Everything to a hip soundtrack that includes the haunting lament Medicine performed by London-based indie folk trio Daughter.

Heartstrings are studiously plucked by scriptwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis during two hours of yearning glances and tear-filled eyes that feels slightly longer as the will they-won't they narrative reaches its wrenching conclusion.

Haley Lu Richardson brings an aching vulnerability to her control-freak patient, who is crippled with survivor's guilt and has reached the point where she is living to take her pills and delay for her parents the anguish of burying a second child.

Co-star Cole Sprouse has less to work with to flesh out his brooding rebel, whose devil-may-care attitude to his drugs regime is altered through the power of love.

If you're already gagging at that syrupy sentiment then you're at high risk of slumping into a sugar coma before the emotionally manipulative and dreamy parting shot of Baldoni's teen valentine.

Fun-loving 17-year-old Stella Grant (Richardson) is a frequent visitor to Saint Grace Regional Hospital for her CF.

Gay best friend Poe (Moises Arias) is a patient with the same genetic disorder and they support each other though emotional peaks and troughs, always at least six feet apart to prevent the transfer of potentially deadly germs through touch.

During her latest stint under the care of Dr Hamid (Parminder Nagra) and head nurse Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), Stella encounters charming CF patient Will Newman (Sprouse).

He is a carrier for the Burkholderia cepaci bacterial strain, which could curtail Stella's hopes of a lung transplant to prolong her outlook by five years.

Consequently, the smitten teenagers fan the flames of romance through video chats and leisurely walks down hospital corridors wearing masks and latex gloves.

Stella is a stickler for protocol and has built her own app to remind her to take pills and wear an oscillation vest that clears the mucus from her failing lungs.

In stark contrast, Will is a rebel who flouts the rules. His daredevil attitude puts himself and others at risk in a clinical bubble where one hug or kiss could prove deadly.

Five Feet Apart delivers every whimper and sigh we expect, illuminated by a compelling and textured performance from Richardson.

The two leads catalyse simmering screen chemistry, which atones for some clumsy dialogue and a contrived dalliance in the park beneath the stars.

How they sparkle and shine. The actors, not Baldoni's film.

FIVE FEET APART (12A, 116 mins) Romance/Drama. Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Parminder Nagra, Claire Forlani. Director: Justin Baldoni

5.5/10

Released: March 22 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

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