Tag Archives: romance

Five Feet Apart propelled by poignant story of survival, love, and sacrifice

Occasionally, I am at odds with many movie critics. Such is the case for Five Feet Apart, which I think is an excellent movie (as do most regular audiences watchers). The leads (Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse) are excellent, and have palpable chemistry on screen as two teenagers in advanced stages of a genetically inherited terminal illness (cystic fibrosis, or CF).

The movie’s title derives from standard CF treatment practice of minimizing airborne infection from others with the disease by staying six feet apart. Don’t worry, the movie explains the five foot modification, and it’s the heart and soul of the movie (as good titles should be; not bait and switch). For more on CF, which is actually quite complex, see the general overview here, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cystic_fibrosis

“Five Feet Apart” is much more than just good acting. Every scene is a meaningful and moves the story forward, either by driving plot or the arc of the characters. Moreover, the movie just doesn’t dwell on the victims of the disease: the story directs attention, well integrated into the plot, to the toll the disease takes on the caregivers and professionals who cope with the teenagers trying to manage their lives under the heavy weight of a terminal illness (with excellent performances by Kimberly Hebert Gregory as a nurse and Parminder Nagra as a doctor). We see unfolding before us love gained, love lost, love restored; doubt, perseverance, compromise; heartbreak, hope, defeat, determination, inspiration; all amid heartfelt struggles to find purpose and meaning. I think the screenwriters (Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis) and the director (Justin Baldoni) have done a remarkable job tying together these wildly dynamic strands and threads into this poignant tale of mental and physical survival. And Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, and Moises Arias (their friend Poe) do a great job fulfilling their artistic and storytelling vision.

So, why do I think many critics missed the mark on “Five Feet Apart”? I suspect I bring a number of perspectives into the film that might put me more in touch with the target audience. As a YA novelist (four YA novels and counting), I have worked for years thinking about and putting into creative practice the personal and social psychology of teen behavior and attitudes. As an active parent, I witnessed my own children struggling with many of the issues that play out in “Five Feet Apart” (although in circumstances far less dire). But perhaps most importantly I have spent a lot of time trying to understand human sexuality and intimacy. “Five Feet Apart” gets all of this right.

So, is Five Feet Apart melodramatic? Certainly. So are teens’ lives. The difference is the melodrama is a critical (and necessary) part of growing up, and “Five Feet Apart” honors this essential element of human development. Audiences who like the movies probably see, as a did, the reality of their world in this story. Does the story meander? On the surface, yes. In terms of the story’s basic structure and drive toward the climax, no. It all fits and provides forward momentum for the story, leading the characters logically and rationally to their climactic scenes. Is the movie exploitive? No. the movie puts teens in an unimaginably (for most) heartbreaking situation that actually does play out in real life (although the prognosis for most afflicted with CF is much better than the movie implies).

Overall, I think Five Feet Apart is a fine film, one of the best I’ve seen in 2019. But be prepared: this movie is a true drama and the story’s ending is not all roses (or, to push the metaphor further a rose with many thorns).

Update 6/20/2019: Check out the Facebook post and comments: 5,72 people reached, 443 engagements, 307 reactions, 27 shares.

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Review: The Exception harkens to classic war-time romances

The Exception made a brief appearance in the movie theaters before heading to the DVD and on-line streaming market. This is where the film is likely to find its commercial success. It lacks the fast-paced action, grand themes, and scenic worlds that lend themselves big screen storytelling. In many ways, The Exception seems like a throwback to the period romantic dramas of the 1950s and 1960s.

This World War II story centers on a forbidden love that develops between a German army officer, Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney, Suicide Squad, UnbrokenDivergent) and a female servant working in the household of the exiled German Emperor, Kaiser Frederick Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, BeginnersThe Last Station). The Kaiser and his wife, Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer, Maleficent, Albert NobbsInsurgent) are living in Belgium awaiting an opportunity for the former monarch will be reinstated in Germany. Brandt has been transferred by German headquarters to lead Wilhelm’s security detail.

In retrospect, Wilhelm’s hope to return to Germany seems hopelessly naive and detached (and toward the last years he appeared increasingly delusional). But the Kaiser’s character is rooted in the real life dynamics of post-World War I German culture, society, and politics. Germany’s disastrous early experiment with democracy, the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), kept hopes for re-establishing the German monarchy alive for many in the aristocracy and military. Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated rather than renounce his claim to the throne, and he hoped to be invited back to Germany in a prominent government role.

German loyalty to the former monarch was, in fact, problematic for Adolph Hitler. While Hitler never considered reinstating Wilhelm, the former Kaiser’s stature was sufficiently high his death (in 1941) was used for propaganda purposes reinforce German values of honor and commitment to German aspirations for European hegemony. This historically grounded reality sets up important plot points in the movie.

When Brandt is transferred to the Kaiser’s security detail, he meets Meike de Jong (Lily James, Downton AbbeyBaby Driver), a servant in the Kaiser’s castle. They begin a romance despite rules against fraternization between staff and the soldiers. Complicating matters is the fact Meike is Jewish. Following his heart, Brandt refuses to break off the romance. Intrigue deepens as the SS (a German paramilitary police force) discover a British agent is working in the town. Meike is also an informant for the Dutch resistance, reporting on the activities with the Kaiser’s house.

The Exception is generally well executed and acted. Plummer successfully projects the naive optimism of the banished Kaiser while also adding humanity to his borderline delusional character. McTeer’s portrayal of the Kaiser’s ambitious and devoted wife, Princess Hermine, creates the necessary tension to keep the outcome of the clandestine romance in question throughout most of the movie.

Unfortunately, the plot is predictable, providing little that is fresh or innovative with the exception of a small plot twist at the end. Virtually nothing in this film pushes or even comes close to a creative boundary. The result is an entertaining but largely un-engaging film.

The relationship between Brandt and de Jong as characters is also problematic. The first day at the castle, Brandt and de Jong notice each other, making eye contact several times. This presumably is an attempt to demonstrate mutual attraction. Later that evening, however, de Jong delivers an invitation to dinner with the Kaiser to Brandt in his private quarters. Brandt orders de Jong to strip, and he rapes her (although physical violence is not used or attempted). This scene clearly establishes the master-slave hierarchy. Soldiers by virtue of their status and rank, could take advantage of the subservient role of women.

Yet, just a few nights later, de Jong enters his room again and voluntarily has sex with Brandt after discovering he was wounded on the Eastern Front. If this were a ploy to extract information from Brandt, this turn of events and de Jong’s actions would be plausible. But just days later they are in what appears to be a mutually satisfying romantic relationship. While Brandt’s shift from lustful physical satisfaction to romantic interest is plausible—in the first case it was “just sex”—de Jong’s attitude as the rape victim would be much more difficult. Yet the film does very little to address how the character overcomes the indignity and humiliation of her rape other than a flimsy apology by Brandt after he has developed personal feelings for her.

The Exception is a film that harkens back to the naive innocence of the romance-dramas of the post-World War II era. Despite this inconsistency, the romance mixed with international intrigue creates enough tension and conflict to keep audiences entertained throughout the movie despite the unimaginative plot.

The Exception scored a 7.9 (out of 10) on my rubric, earning a C+.

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Isabella sails into gold at the FAPA President’s Awards

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President's Awards

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President’s Awards

Tortuga Bay continues to generate enthusiasm and accolades as 2016 moves into its final months. Earlier, Isabella and her crew fought their way to recognition as a Category Finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards. Tortuga Bay has also made it into the final rounds of the Royal Palm Literary Awards (final results will be released in October). Now, her crew earned gold medals in two categories of the President’s Award competition hosted by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Both awards came in Young Adult (YA) categories. This first category was Young Adult Fiction, a broad category that would have her compete among many other books and subgenres. The second category was in YA Romance, Coming of Age, and New Adult.

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Fiction

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Fiction

Tortuga Bay (and the Pirate of Panther Bay series) are showing a broad appeal. While all the results are not in, the story has made it into the RPLA finals under Published Fiction—Mainstream/Literary. That means the novel is competing against a wide range of novels, in and outside the young adult category. In addition, Tortuga Bay made it into the RPLA semi-finals in the categories of YA historical fiction, women’s fiction, and YA romance.

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Romance/Coming of Age/New Adult

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Romance/Coming of Age/New Adult

FAPA’s awards have a lot of integrity. Unlike some other competitions, FAPA does not feel obligated to hand out awards to books based on the number of submissions in a category. Each book is judged and evaluated numerically based on a rubric. In order to become a finalist, the book has to meet a minimum numerical threshold from the judges. Specific thresholds are also necessary to qualify as bronze, silver or gold. Some categories, in fact, didn’t have any medalists. Other categories didn’t have any gold medals awarded, and others didn’t have bronze or silver medal awards. So, winners have confidence that their award was based on an absolute measure of quality (although scores are still subjective) that are compared equally across other submissions.

Thus, we are particularly proud to have earned these gold medals.

To buy Tortuga Bay, check out amazon.com or SYP Publishing.

For more on the series and how it can be used in the classroom, check out my website: http://www.srstaley.com/pirate-of-panther-bay.html

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