Updated: Mar 22, 2020
Among the world's great mysteries comes the chronic popularity of a movie genre dubbed "sick flicks." Sick, as in bedridden with illness, rather than an alternative definition involving gore or tastelessness. Millions demonstrated the power of sick flicks decades ago when Ali McGraw coughed and earned a best actress Oscar nomination for "Love Story."
Other titles followed, like "Dying Young" — really makes you want to get out and celebrate. Now, "Five Feet Apart" arrives to catch the tears, its distinctiveness coming from a look at cystic fibrosis and young lovers who can never touch. Not quite Romeo and Juliet, but a compelling challenge for the five-foot duo, and somehow, a form of catnip to teenage girls. Actor Cole Sprouse looks like a tweenie heartthrob, sporting a waiflike tenderness that rarely shows up in real life.
Better yet, Haley Lu Richardson plays a seventeen-year old cystic fibrosis patient who displays great insight and intelligence. Like her co-star, Richardson's background includes work on television series, she on Ravenswood and he in Riverdale. With movies, Richardson stood out as a best-bud girl in both The Edge of Seventeen and Split, flashing a distinct smile and expressive way of moving, a charismatic presence that made me wish she starred in those films. Now earning top billing, she proves fully appealing with a character undergoing diverse emotions, someone working to stay positive in a world full of negatives.
However, neither she nor anyone in the project overcome the sick-flick genre's clichÈs, the ones that start with a boy who needs saving by a dying girl. Call it "A Walk to Remember" or "The Fault in Our Stars" or "Sweet November," sickness proves a form of salvation. Perhaps that positive perception solves the Mystery of the Ever-popular sick flick. But that appeal might also come from finishing watching and feeling something like "Well, I may have my problems, but it's not as bad as theirs."
Combine the sense of being better off than someone else with a really cute guy, and sick flicks work strange magic.
This review was originally aired on 3/21/2019.
You can listen to it online at https://www.kunr.org/post/gloria-bell#stream/0