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.


Love stories that won’t make you gag

It’s Valentine’s Day!

Hearts and sparkles and candy for everyone!

For as much as I love heart-shaped things and red things and L-O-V-E, there’s something undeniably cheesy — albeit fun — about this holiday. I have fond memories of writing out little cards for my classmates growing up, then waiting for my latest crush to declare his feelings on February 14. When the proclamation wasn’t forthcoming, I tried to tell myself there was always next year. Always the romantic!

My fiance and I will be cooking up a storm at home and avoiding the crowds tonight, and that’s just fine with me. On our first and only “engaged” Valentine’s Day, I’d rather avoid the chaos and catch up on “Downton Abbey” (though sweet Cupid, it’s been really depressing lately). We went out on Sunday for our traditional French dinner in a nearby town, and it was a sweet and personal evening!

ChocolatesAnd on this day devoted to romance, I’ve been thinking about love stories. I haven’t read enough good ones lately. I’m always seeking something sweeping in magnitude — yet grounded in reality. I want a give-and-take relationship between two people who recognize that while they could stand separately, they’re better together. I want my novels to be romantic without provoking frequent eye-rolls, and y’all know I can get down with an eye-roll. (It’s how I roll.) (And sorry for that bad pun.)

When it comes to love stories, I usually require them in my reading. An otherwise fabulous book without the emotion and drama of a blossoming romance just doesn’t hold the same appeal. There are exceptions to this, of course — and the love story itself is a delicate balancing act. It’s crucial to have things develop naturally — or for me to feel like they do, anyway.

I’m probably not making any sense. Too many contraband Valentine’s chocolates. Sugar rush!

(Only kidding. I’m still committed to healthy living, though those heart-shaped Peeps are eyeballing me.)

And so, in honor of this day of love, I present to you . . .

Meg’s Favorite Love Stories
(That Won’t Make You Gag)

The Lost Art of Keeping SecretsOkay, I’m a little biased with this one — because it’s one of my favorite books of all time. No exaggeration. In fact, if I can convince you to read one book in my years of book- and life-blogging, I hope it’s Eva Rice’s The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets. It’s that good — and I’m that serious. Though the romance in Rice’s novel isn’t center-stage, it’s unforgettable . . . just like this story. In fact, I really need to pluck it back off my shelf; we’ve been separated for far too long.

I Remember YouBeyond its quaint setting in the English countryside, Harriet Evans’ I Remember You is everything I devour in a novel. Particular care is paid to the two leads: childhood best friends who grow up in one another’s pockets, but separate over the years through grief, romance and everything in between. Though it occasionally falls victim to some chick-lit cliches, it’s a sweeping tale of first love that really resonated with me — and was one I recommended for months.

Bridge of Scarlet LeavesSeparated by war, hostility and racism, Kristina McMorris’ lovebirds in Bridge of Scarlet Leaves face impossible heartache in their quest to just be together. (Makes online dating look like a cakewalk, eh?) This historical novel, set in World War II, is meticulously researched — and absolutely engrossing. Maddie and Lane make an unforgettable pairing.

The Love Goddess' Cooking SchoolWhen you pair romance with the undeniable pull of Italian cooking, you get a savory dish like Melissa Senate’s The Love Goddess’ Cooking School — and I gobbled it up. A budding romance told against the backdrop of familial love on the coast of Maine, this fun story left me with a full heart . . . and a growling stomach.

Anna and the French KissThere’s no denying the allure of Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss, a young adult novel that took the reading community by storm. With its Parisian setting, dreamy male lead and enticing will-they-or-won’t-they premise (they always start out as “just friends,” don’t they?), Perkins’ debut had one of the best finales I’ve read. I was literally swooning, if such a thing is possible, and I didn’t want it to end. If you’ve refrained from grabbing it until now, consider this your homework. Your Valentine’s Day homework.

Book review: ‘In The Bag’ by Kate Klise

Armchair travelers rejoice! Kate Klise has penned a funny, light and speedy read transporting readers through Madrid and Paris with two love stories entertaining enough for me to devour the whole thing on a three-hour train ride. And I have no regrets.

“A successful chef and single mother, Daisy Sprinkle is on vacation with her teenage daughter, Coco, who picks up the wrong duffle bag at the airport. That situation is not improved by the note Daisy finds tucked into her carry-on, apparently from the man in 13-C. Daisy is in no mood for secret admirer notes or dinner dates. Or even men, for that matter.

“Andrew doesn’t know what possessed him to do something like that. Hitting on strange women on airplanes is definitely not his typical style. But there was something about the woman in 6-B that could not be ignored. Of course, now he has no time to think about her, since his son Webb seems to have made off with a budding fashionista’s luggage.

“Determined to make the best of a bad situation, Daisy cooks up a plan to calm her daughter’s panic over the lost bag with a week of fabulous food, shopping, and museum hopping. Andrew is busy working on his latest project and hoping Webb finds enough to entertain himself. Little do they know the teens are making their own plan. . . one that will ultimately reunite Ms. 6-B and Mr. 13-C.” (Goodreads)

If In The Bag sounds like a kooky novel relying on uncanny coincidences to further the plot, you’re right — and I liked it. Though far from unpredictable, it’s easy to see how fate plays a role in joining together four people; the whole novel has a sort of “Sleepless In Seattle” feel to it. You know what I mean? Like everything is destined to work out, but only the audience can see it. And we’re along for the ride.

Good thing I love “Sleepless In Seattle.”

Though Coco’s typical-teenage-character whining (“Mooooom! You’re ruining my life!“) nonsense took a while to stomach, I eventually took a shine to her. Both Coco and Daisy are struggling to sort out their roles in the mother-daughter dynamic, especially as Coco gets older and prepares for college. Their trip to Paris is supposed to be a chance to reconnect and recharge their batteries, especially for Daisy, but nothing seems to be going their way.

After a luggage mix-up, they’re linked to Andrew and Webb, a handsome father-son pair, and it’s not complicated to see that Teen Girl A will feel a spark with Teen Boy B. Communicating exclusively through email, In The Bag focuses often on the role of digital courtship versus the more traditional ways of getting to know someone (like, you know, in person). Daisy is wary of technology while Andrew embraces it; Coco and Webb are, of course, glued to whatever Internet cafe they can find abroad. I liked the explorations of “modern” courtship — they made sense, and Klise wasn’t heavy-handed about it. The whole “OMG people don’t really talk anymore” overtures popping up in contemporary fiction are getting stale.

Those who love a side of scenery, French food and wicked descriptions of Europe with their love stories will definitely find plenty to enjoy in In The Bag. Flipping between sunny Madrid and romantic Paris, it’s the sort of novel that will have you wanting to pack a bag immediately. (Just hope it doesn’t get lost.) Though I got more of a sense of France than Spain, that’s probably because Webb spent his time in Madrid talking to Coco in Paris — so we see less of the city through his eyes. Still, the travel aspects were fun, and I enjoyed the “Americans abroad” perspective.

In The Bag definitely has crossover appeal. Adult readers and chick lit lovers will relate to the harried-parents-doing-the-best-they-can relationship between Andrew and Daisy; teens have plenty to get their blood pumpin’ regarding the sweet but flirtatious evolution of Webb and Coco’s emails. By the time the pair meet face-to-face, I was grinning — I mean, who wouldn’t root for those crazy kids? And when things don’t go exactly as planned, I could sympathize. For as much as I had to suspend disbelief at points, Coco and Webb’s meeting was painfully realistic.

Though I sometimes get twitchy about labeling something a “summer read” (it can just seem dismissive), that’s exactly how I would describe In The Bag: light-hearted fiction that can be easily consumed while working on a tan. It doesn’t demand too much of you. It can be read in chunks and set aside for days or gobbled up all at once; either way, it doesn’t lose its charm. It’s fun and frothy. And that cover is too cute.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0062108050 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review