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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Book chat: ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ by John Green

The Fault In Our StarsSo I finished John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars on Sunday. I bought it last week in anticipation of a long weekend away as a “treat” to myself, insofar as a book about kids with cancer can be a “treat.”

Also, despite loving my Kindle for years now, I still feel weird paying for e-books? I mostly read review copies or freebies or library loans. I guess that’s a terrible thing to admit . . . I mean, it’s just that they’re digital. Yes, I do pay for plenty of things I cannot physically hold, but I guess I’m just crotchety and still struggling to grasp the concept of paying real money for things that feel un-real.

Anyway. Clearly a post for another day.

The Fault In Our Stars has been on my radar for years due to its reputation as a tearjerker, I suppose. Sometimes I crave a good cry and don’t mind a depressing novel; they can be quite beautiful, after all. Plus, this is penned by Green, Great Lord of the Book/Young Adult World, and I’ve read and enjoyed several of his books. He’s darn witty and insightful.

Also, I saw him speak at the National Book Festival in 2012 . . . and yeah, he’s totally cute. Just feel that, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that.

Anyway. (Man, I’m a mess today.) Back to the actual book, friends. I have lots of thoughts about it, but . . . they’re scattered, disjointed. I went into this novel knowing it had been hyped into oblivion but is also loved fiercely by many readers — I mean, it’s been rated more than 1 million times on Goodreads.

One. Million. Times.

It’s hard to pick up a book you’ve heard so much about without rampant expectations. Like, for example, I expected to cry — a lot. I mean, the basic plot? Two teenage cancer survivors meet at a support group and fall in love. You know something ain’t going to end well, right? Even the title suggests it.

To my shock, I’ve managed to avoid spoilers all this time — no small feat given its 2012 publication date. And the accompanying movie released in June, which I’m now exceptionally eager to see.

So I won’t ruin it for you, either. Trust me.

But back to my Feelings. I loved Augustus because yeah, I think we’re supposed to. Almost engineered to. He’s cool, thoughtful, romantic, sweet . . . all attributes I typically love in a dude. Gus is also wise beyond his years — something that comes with having stared down death, I suppose — and utterly devoted to Hazel, our narrator, who is herself living with a cancer that actively decimates her lungs. Hazel requires constant oxygen delivered via a tank, her breathing shadow, and Gus accepts this.

Gus accepts her. And not just because her chopped-off locks and quiet confidence remind him of actress Natalie Portman.

Green’s tome is a story of life and death. Of life after death, and living well in the face of impending death. Though we all know we’re mortal beings, some of us must confront that fact much earlier than others. It’s awful, but it’s the truth. The subject matter is understandably heavy, and even in its buoyant moments — those sparkly moments of first love, as light as the champagne the two share — it’s there. The gravity weighing them down, the illness with its claws sunk deep into them both.

And yet, they love. They are. They will be.

The portrayal of Hazel’s parents, who are themselves fighting the good fight along with their daughter, also felt realistic and heartbreaking. Ditto the experiences of Augustus’ parents and the extended Waters clan. Even the peripheral characters — Isaac, a fellow cancer survivor who loses his sight; Hazel’s best friend, Kaitlyn, a fashionable and free teen who serves as her tenuous and final remaining link to the “healthy” and unbound world — serve a purpose and occasionally provide comedic relief.

There is so much in The Fault In Our Stars that felt both beautifully clear and unbelievably obtuse. I fluctuated between getting lost in Green’s deep thoughts and feeling completely discomfited by them. Our young lovers are both enamored with a fictional book called An Imperial Affliction, and learning the fate of its various characters via its alcoholic author in Amsterdam becomes an obsession for them.

I got it, but I didn’t always get it.

Still. Did I like The Fault In Our Stars? Absolutely. I’ve thought of little else since finishing. It was sad, yes — but also many things in between. I cried a little, but not as I expected to — and the finale wasn’t what I’d anticipated, either . . . in a good way? I think. It splintered me, but I’m still standing.

Though Augustus is obsessed with leaving a lasting mark on the world, The Fault In Our Stars is a powerful reminder that though our time here is limited, the impact we make on others — even if it’s merely one other — is more important. Lasting.

Love can only ever lead to suffering, to separation . . . but it’s worth it.

It has to be.


4 out of 5

Pub: 2012 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Digital review copy purchased by Meg