Movies based on books are nothing new. Neither are teen romances. Or stories about the fragility of life. Even after rolling all three categories into one, at least a dozen recent titles still spring to mind. So, going into Five Feet Apart (2019), the latest addition to this ever-growing subgenre, it’s easy to wonder what else it could possibly offer. Unfortunately, aside from a quirky hook about its leads being unable to get close enough to touch each other, the answer is, quite frankly, not that much. Sure, there’s sparks of humour here and there. And a decidedly heart-wrenching finale. But it is incredibly frustrating to see the film’s key takeaway, of humanising a genetic condition that affects more than 70,000 people worldwide, come through in little more than sparse moments interspersed between a clunky start and a rushed, soap-opera style third act.
In saying that, those looking for a stock standard teenage romance, full of pretty protagonists and just enough hints at a terrible tragedy ready to befall them, will find Five Feet Apart (2019) a figurative goldmine. The story follows young cystic fibrosis sufferer Stella Grant as she navigates both her disease and a newfound friendship with fellow CF patient Will Newman. Because of their sickness, the pair must always stay six feet apart, lest they inadvertently share their bacteria and infect one another. But despite the fact that Will is infected with B. cepacia, a drug-resistant strain that, should it be transferred to Stella, could risk her chance at any potential lung transplants, the pair soon fall for each other. Because what sort of movie would it be if everyone played by the rules, right? So, the pair bond over medicine-taking techniques, gym sessions and late-night swims, with Stella eventually deciding the only way for her to take back some control and any chance at connection, is to steal back as many inches between them as she can. But when every moment is borrowed time, it’s not long before the couple are made to question whether a relationship built to fail can survive in the long run.
As far as the acting goes, Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse do their best to bring warmth and authenticity to their characters. And for the most part they seem to cultivate a genuine connection. But despite such efforts, it is hard to read Stella and Will as anything other than stuck, running down the clock on an ending most audience members can see a mile off. It’s not all doom and gloom though, with some of the film’s more touching moments coming across in the depiction of regular CF life – such Stella’s blogging and room decorating – which not only raise awareness of the titular disease but also emphasize the loneliness it begets. Rarely do deliveries of such medical issues remain thoughtful rather than sanctimonious. Similarly, an understated performance from former Hannah Montana (2006) star Moises Arias as Stella’s best-bud Poe helps ground things, especially as the music montages kick in.
A glossy young adult production, realism is the true detractor for Five Feet Apart (2019). For example, while we are given the opportunity to meet Will and Stella’s parents (albeit briefly and not by name), there’s never any significant inclination into how they, or for that matter the doctors and nurses too, cope with the children’s sicknesses. Where are all the visitors coming to see them? The forms needing to be filled in? Or the hospital-run programs providing them with something productive to do during their stay, like homework? No, instead, the teens are apparently given free reign through-out the hospital, jetting about on skateboards, hosting frivolous dinners in the back rooms of the cafeteria, and literally walking around on the roof’s edge. Then again, it’s hard to expect anything better from scriptwriters who somehow think regular teen talk includes profound and poetic dialogue, along with plenty of ‘staring into the distance’ moments.
Now, there’s been a lot of talk about the film’s use of Cystic Fibrosis as little more than a plot point. And while I can’t say it’s not true, it’s hard to argue that this is something new for Hollywood. How many times have we seen cancer trotted out in the same vein to bring two stricken teens together a la The Fault In Our Stars (2014), Now Is Good (2012) and My Sister’s Keeper (2009). But unlike the pictures that have come before it, there is a danger that lurks below the surface of Five Feet Apart (2019). Because any patient with CF knows that pushing the boundaries and ‘stealing back just a few inches’ can be deadly. So yes, we must agree that, at best, it’s romanticising of this idea seems inherently wrong, and at worst, it might even present perilous consequences. But then again, treating movies like documentaries doesn’t do anyone any good. Otherwise you could claim there’s risk in showing anything on screen.
Above all else, Five Feet Apart (2019) is a portrait in intimacy between two people who can’t touch. And as intriguing as that concept sounds, it’s also infuriating. Because as much as you want to sit there and say that there is nothing romantic in stealing someone’s future away from them, the fact still remains that you can’t choose who you love. Is this a new concept? Not really. But an exciting one to explore? Sure. The true deciding vote though lies in whether such a picture is worthy enough to dedicate two hours of your life too. And for us, as formulaic and annoying as it is, it is still somewhat of a breathe of fresh air.
Rating: 3 Lungs out of 5
As soon as the MCU’s famed opening banner hits the screen, it’s easy to tell that Captain Marvel (2019) is an important film. It would be naive to say this feeling comes simply from the movie being the megalith’s first female-led flick. Or because its protagonist is widely considered to be the billion-dollar franchise’s most powerful character. No, it’s more than that. Because despite the labels, expectations and agendas at play behind the scenes here, there’s one thing Marvel couldn’t predict about this blockbuster. And that is the legacy this picture upholds, innately though that may be, as the studio’s first film shown following the passing of comic-book creator Stan Lee. It is important because of all the features that could have found themselves in this position, it wound up being this one. A movie about a young woman who gets knocked down, time and time again, and refuses to give up. A woman who’s resolve is to go higher, further and faster. A woman who represents exactly what Mr Lee’s motto Excelsior means – upward and onward to greater glory.
That being said, a lot of what Captain Marvel (2019) delivers isn’t exactly original. Plot-wise we have a soldier sacrificing themselves. An underdog obtaining special powers. A superhero losing their memory. And a classic good-guy, bad-guy twist dominating the entirety of act three. Repetition is an unfortunate by-product of comic books (Carol Danvers has been appearing in issues since the 1960s, after all) but that doesn’t mean cinemagoers are willing to accept the same thing. I mean, there’s a reason Rotten Tomatoes makes it’s living off what’s considered “fresh”. Furthermore, it’s hard to get past the fact that the entire first half of the film meanders through unnecessary exposition and chase scenes, all-the-while stumbling over what little humour it does bother delivering. However, when the movie finally does takes off in part three, boy does it fly. There’s explosions and quick-witted quips aplenty, giving the filmmakers some sort of attempt at redemption before the credits roll. And in a praise-worthy move that is rarely seen in blockbuster’s these days, there’s no love story being shoved down audiences’ throats. Not even a hint of one.
It also needs to be noted that while Marvel are great at taking chances with their properties and filmmakers, such as with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017), it is painful to see them turn down an opportunity to make this – such a prominent piece in their portfolio – less than the kick-ass, all-female-driven production it could have been. Yes, the writer’s team is largely made up of women. And yes, Anna Boden is one half of the team in the director’s chair. But part of what made DC’s first female film, Wonder Woman (2017), so exquisitely good was that it was helmed solely by Patty Jenkins. There’s power in a decision like that, whether you admit it or not. And, perhaps if Marvel had stuck with a single director their latest offering would have wound up less disjointed too, with everything from its humour to its timing always coming across just a little off. Because while its script may be dotted with Easter eggs for the fans, there’s little fun to be had from it.
As for the casting, Brie Larson’s selection has been a contentious one ever since the early days of production, with concerns she lacks the emotional depth needed to make Danvers superhero sympathetic. And despite her Academy Award-winning talent it’s a fair assessment, with the actress struggling throughout the film’s first hour before finally finding her footing just the curtain’s about to fall. It’s telling, though, that Marvel don’t seem too concerned about her ability to carry the Avengers films moving forward, with the studio going so far as to provide their own tongue-in-cheek reference to those who asked why she was “not smiling” enough, in a sardonic moment at around the thirty-minute mark. As for the others, Samuel L. Jackson gives a dynamic performance as a young Nick Fury, but after nine appearances in the role you’d expect nothing less. And Ben Mendelsohn is equally as fantastic in his part as antagonist Talos, providing one of the best additions to the series in years. There’s great humanity and humour to be found under his colossal make-up and costuming. As far as scene-stealer’s go though, there’s no passing Goose, a cat whose powers extend well-beyond simply being the cutest of the cast members.
The retro-stylings of the film are something critics have also been hotly debating and interestingly on this issue it’s harder to come down on one side or the other. Marvel pitched the movie as a nineties-centric piece and it’s certainly that, with pointed references to the horrendously slow systems of Windows 95 computers and the dead artform that was VHS. But it almost feels like we’re always on the periphery of what that era was. There’s dribs-and-drabs of pop culture littered throughout, from mentions of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990) to classic grunge fashion (leather and plaid anyone…) But there’s not a lot of emphasis on other, bigger issues, like woman taking their first-steps forward in male-centric fields. And don’t even get me started on the lack of slang from that time (where’s the hey dude’s and the that’s so fly’s?) Fans can take solace in the musical choices, however, because there’s plenty of top nineties tracks to go around. Nirvana’s Come As You Are makes its mark, as does a well-timed dose of Just A Girl from No Doubt.
While it may be a boring production for the first 60 minutes and a busy one for the second, it would be amiss to label Captain Marvel (2019) flat or a failure. It’s simply a superhero film that is a little off kilter. Unlike the origin flicks that have come before, the filmmakers are beginning to be wary of showing us all the insecurities and personal problems of our protagonists, less they give away too much for future instalments. And while we would love to know more about why Carol hated her father or what the full extent of her powers are, this is not and never was going to be the film for those questions. Instead, this picture is the one designed to tell girls to believe in themselves. To remind them it’s okay to stop looking for approval. To push themselves onwards and upwards to greater glory, regardless of the damn naysayers. And we think Stan would be proud.
Rating: 3.5 Gooses out of 5
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