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Can you love someone you can never touch? That’s the buzzing premise of Five Feet Apart, a star-crossed romance between two teens afflicted with cystic fibrosis and at constant risk of cross infection. 

Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) is a typical teen in every way except for one—her illness. She spends most of her time in a hospital room, where she facetimes her friends and vlogs about her illness to other teens. Enter dreamy Will Newman (Cole Sprouse, Riverdale; Suite Life of Zack and Cody). Will harbors a hard edge of cynicism and maybe even a slight death wish. His “who cares anymore?” attitude clashes with Stella’s optimism and disciplined routines.

The clash, of course, is a cover for instant attraction, and soon enough the two are falling in love, a love that seems doomed to end in heartbreak.

What moviegoers don’t know is whose heart will break first, and how. Will they adhere to the rule of being five feet apart at all times? Considering Will’s bacterial infection, any contact, especially mouth to mouth, could be fatal.

Though sex is mentioned a couple of times, the couple can’t even hold hands, much less kiss.  Nonetheless, first-time director Justin Baldoni creates real intimacy in scenes such as the one where the two, holding a five-foot pool cue between them, strip down to their underwear by the hospital pool. Their yearning and chemistry are tangible, though the scene itself is not sexual. 

Richardson is wonderful, a winsome, embattled, and brave girl who draws empathy for her plight. Sprouse, meanwhile, is a swoon-worthy counterpoint who also turns in an affecting, if less realistic, performance. Both performances are the most compelling part of the movie, which often feels weighed down and crammed.

The flaws lie in the story itself, as the plot is encumbered with traumas and tragedies. At some point the moviegoer becomes numb to all the wreckage. Ultimately, the story promotes perspective and not taking your people or your health for granted. Love is a risk worth taking and life is a beautiful gift. You, like me, may inhale as you watch the credits, and feel a sense of gratitude for the simple act of breathing. Note: the film is PG-13, with some swearing and sexual references. (CBS films)

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