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'Five Feet Apart' is a different kind of teen romance movie

Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse in

Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse in  "Five Feet Apart." Credit: CBS Films/Alfonso Bresciani

If you glanced at the trailer for the upcoming movie “Five Feet Apart,” you might assume it’s just another teen romance—save for the oxygen tubes, surgical masks and med carts. And the controversy.

But that controversy doesn’t bother Caitlin Reilly, a 16-year-old high school junior from Bohemia, who’s been eagerly awaiting the March 15 premiere for weeks.

The film, starring “Edge of Seventeen’s” Haley Lu Richardson and “Riverdale’s” Cole Sprouse, depicts the fictional love story of two patients with cystic fibrosis (CF), a rare (and rarely seen onscreen) genetic disease that causes serious lung infections and requires patients to stay at least six feet apart from other CF patients. This lowers the risk of passing deadly germs to each other. In the film, the two rebellious teens choose a closer proximity. Hence the title.

“I wonder if that could give people the wrong idea, or if someone younger with CF might think that’s okay—because it’s not,” says Reilly, who was diagnosed with CF at age 3.

Reilly’s condition is monitored regularly by doctors at the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, one of 120 centers around the U.S. dedicated to fighting CF in children and adults.

“A lot of my patients have already been asking about this movie,” says Dr. Catherine Kier, head of the center. She and her colleagues have prepped for weeks to answer questions “so there’s no confusion,” she says.

The teenage years can be a critical period for CF patients. Like typical teens, with hormones surging, they develop an “invincible” attitude. And they’re desperate to not stick out, Kier explains.

“So they break the rules, attend parties, skip their treatments,” she says.

Reilly, for one, understands the risks. She communicates with fellow patients via text or Facetime, and otherwise keeps her distance.

“I’m hospitalized every three months, and sometimes there are other CF patients on the floor,” she says. “I always wear a mask when I go to the hospital or doctor’s office.”

Despite concerns about the film on social media, Reilly sees value in the movie’s ability to raise awareness about this little-known disease. She also appreciates that “Five’s” director, Justin Baldoni, consulted CF experts, including activist Claire Wineland, who died last year at age 21.

“I’m different—I’m not going to hate on the movie,” Reilly says, insisting she’ll withhold judgment until she actually sees the film. “I don’t know…I’m looking forward to it.”

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