Love and restraint: Thoughts on ‘Five Feet Apart’

Five Feet Apart - pool scene

Eh, so I don’t get out much. And I definitely don’t get to the movies often. But something about the previews for “Five Feet Apart” inspired me to request babysitting for two squirrelly toddlers and arrange a date night for us to get out on a Friday night to see this film.

It’s been a week, and I just keep thinking about it.

On the surface, at least, “Five Feet Apart” looks like another riff on “The Fault In Our Stars,” which I liked but don’t remember loving. (At least, I think that’s the case? Straight-up had to re-read my review, because that was 2014, friends. The ol’ brain ain’t the same post-kids.)

Given I’m prone to anxiety on a normal day, I definitely don’t need to throw existential characters with life-threatening diseases into the mix. But this movie — focused on Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will (Cole Sprouse), teens who meet in the hospital as they grapple with complications of cystic fibrosis — was not depressing. I mean, it certainly had its heart-tugging moments . . . and I was ugly-sniffling, for sure.

But after the lights came up, I was only a mini-disaster. I looked at my husband and thought, I’m a human. I’m alive. I have time.

What am I doing with it?

Five Feet Apart snow scene

In many ways, “Five Feet Apart” is about restraint. Will shouldn’t fall in love with Stella, but he does. Stella wants to let herself fall back, but it isn’t that simple. Their illness requires the pair to stay physically apart, lest they risk life-threatening cross infection.

Six feet (later: five feet, per Stella’s request). No holding hands. No hugging. No kissing. Absolutely no intimacy.

Think about it: two 17-year-olds who are all mixed up under that crazy, amazing, whacky first-love spell . . . and they cannot touch. Stella and Will’s relationship is carried out from a safe, respectable distance or through the modern marvels of FaceTime, though their hospital rooms are just a few doors apart.

Five Feet Apart chatting

There is electricity in the waiting. In the wondering. In the hoping-against-hope — though as an audience, we know this cannot happen. They don’t have the luxury of indulging their feelings. There is no sharp exhale of relief when their lips finally meet. Loose ends cannot be tied.

But man, I wanted them to tie.

Our on-demand, two-day-free-Prime-shipping lifestyles today don’t lend themselves to the restraint and sacrifice required of Will and Stella. That’s what stood out to me: we’re all told to go for what we want and make it happen!, but sometimes we can only be brave in the face of hard choices.

“Five Feet Apart” isn’t perfect; few movies are. The ending felt rushed and over-the-top after such a steady, sweet progression. But that ruined nothing. Sprouse does dark and broody so well, and his character is jaded and vulnerable with an innate goodness that hurts. Richardson’s Stella is nuanced, realistic, sweet and strong. I loved the two together. And I loved this movie.

The film has sparked conversation and controversy in and out of the cystic fibrosis community, and it’s not for me to weigh in. But I will say that I left the theater with a better, if imperfect understanding of a disease I’d known very little about (even working in healthcare marketing, where we pride ourselves on amassing medical knowledge). More than 30,000 Americans have CF, and funding is needed for ongoing research to find a cure.

The moral of the story is one we’ve heard a hundred, maybe a thousand times: life is short. Reach out. Take a chance. Be bold. Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

But “Five Feet Apart” stood apart for me because of the ache in my chest and feel-feel-feelings it stirred up, both while watching and thinking about it again. And again. And again. I often reached over to press my fingers into my husband’s arm, the two of us trading glances that said wow this is good and so sad and man I love you. 

It’s haunting. It broke my heart . . . and healed it, too.

Can’t ask too much more of date night.

 

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Monday thoughts on “Begin Again”

Begin Again posterI haven’t been wandering the cool confines of a movie theater much this summer. Declining ticket sales can be explained by not wanting to spend the money and just not having much time, but more than anything? There hasn’t been much I’ve wanted to see. No preview that’s really tickled my fancy.

But at the suggestion of my family, we trekked out to see “Begin Again” on Saturday. I didn’t know what to expect beyond Adam Levine being a bad boyfriend and Keira Knightley singing (?) and Mark Ruffalo being totally down on his luck . . . and maybe that’s why I was completely blown away?

Because I was. I was blown away. It was actually . . . amazing.

Knightley plays Gretta, a young musician who follows her boyfriend (Levine) and his own rising star to New York City. Nervously playing in a grungy bar the night before she’s set to flee home to England, she attracts the attention of a music executive whose recent antics have gotten him ousted from the indie label he founded. Hearing Gretta — even amidst the rude shouting and drunken chatter — reignites his desire to produce music that means something, and the two embark on a journey that changes everything.


That’s the simple version. But it doesn’t tell you anything about how romantic, sweet, inspiring, thoughtful and beautifully shot it is; you need me for that, eh? “Begin Again” is about second chances, moving forward, thriving in the face of loss . . . and it’s just full of emotion, though not in a schmaltzy way. I’m not generally a huge fan of Keira Knightley — nothing personal, I mean, she’s just not a fave — but wow, color me impressed. And Adam Levine as a self-absorbed but loveable pop star? I totally bought it.

I kid. But really, his acting? Singing? Ability to look gorgeous? Not bad.

As you’d hope from a film about aspiring musicians and the ever-changing business itself, the tunes and soundtrack were fantastic. As we were leaving the theater, I told my sister how much it reminded me of the lovely “Once” . . . and then I started to Google and discovered it was directed by John Carney, who directed — you guessed it! — “Once.” (It’s, um, also on the poster, but I didn’t inspect that ahead of time.) Glen Hansard co-wrote a song, too.

When I’m on, I’m on.

The many layers of “Begin Again” are what made it work so spectacularly for me — and more than anything, it’s an homage to falling in love. With a person or a place (New York City, indeed), yes, but also a passion and a calling. The whole film is about passion, really, and it moved me. I can’t pinpoint another recent movie I’ve loved as much — so much that I’d run back out and see it again tomorrow.

I’m pretty much in love with “Lost Stars,” one of the signature tracks, and have played it more than I’d care to admit to you before we’ve all had our coffee.

So. Yes.

That’s pretty much what I wanted to talk about today, mostly because I’m heading into one of the busiest work weeks of my year and my brain is pretty much guaranteed to be crispy like a fried-green tomato by Friday evening. I kind of want to just think about “Begin Again” like a fangirl, eat lots of marshmallows and hide under my desk, but I am 29 now. Guess I’d better go put on my sensible work heels and hustle.

Or maybe I’ll keep watching the video instead.

 

Who knows what the tide could bring?

So I was up until nearly two in the morning two nights ago (on a work night!) watching Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.” I should also mention that just before hunkering down for this cinematic adventure, my boyfriend and I spent nearly three hours watching the 1993 classic Hanks film “Philadelphia.” Since I’d never seen either and actually had a free evening, it was six hours of Tom Hanks, some Rainbow Chips Deluxe cookies and a can of Diet Pepsi Max for me.

I’m probably one of the last people on Earth who hasn’t seen “Cast Away” — as evidenced by several office conversations I had about the film yesterday. Even though my dad tells me he likes it and never called it “boring,” I could have sworn we had that conversation years ago — and stayed away from the movie after that.

Despite my apprehension, I love Tom Hanks — and couldn’t change the channel once I’d started the film. The movie is awesome. It rattled me, for sure, but I guess in a good way. Late at night on my sofa with my junk food and dim lighting, I was totally sucked into this world where Chuck Noland — a FedEx executive who winds up taking a seriously ill-fated flight and winds up on an incredibly remote Pacific island without any foreseeable hope of getting home — manages to survive for four years by drinking coconut milk, figuring out how to catch wild fish and developing a unique, sustaining friendship with a volleyball. I didn’t have any real intention of staying up to watch the entire thing, but once I started going on this terrifying journey with Chuck, I had to see it through to the end.

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