Five Feet Apart

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and suggestive material

 

The sick teen romantic drama “Five Feet Apart” feels like a major evolution in the genre because it’s actually a great movie that just happens to be about sick teens. It’s an authentic portrait that feels real and lived-in, anchored by a pair of excellent starring performances.

Both Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will (Cole Sprouse) have cystic fibrosis, a chronic genetic respiratory disorder with a short life expectancy. Patients with CF have to keep apart from each other to avoid dangerous cross-infection, a unique challenge for a pair of 17-year-olds falling in love.

Director Justin Baldoni (best known as an actor on TV’s “Jane the Virgin”) comes at this from a realistic perspective, having directed a documentary short about cystic fibrosis. Granted, the script is a typical Hollywood-ized teen romance, with some over-the-top moments to ramp up the stakes, but the film remains grounded in the disease.

The ebullient Richardson (“The Edge of Seventeen”) brings a knowing soulfulness to every aspect of Stella’s journey, from her grief to the way she reluctantly lets herself fall for Will. Sprouse (“Riverdale”) rises to her level, transforming from a snarky, too-cool-for-school kid to a young man who finally has hope. The movie’s poignant message is that life is fleeting. “It’ll be over before you know it,” Will loves to say. Why waste a second?

Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

 

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: PG for thematic elements and language

 

Various television and film adaptations of the tales of sleuth Nancy Drew — a character introduced in 1930 to young readers as a counterpart to the Hardy Boys — have been produced over the decades. Now, it’s Sophia Lillis (“It”) who steps into the teenage detective’s shoes in this mystery based on the second book in the series.

When Nancy learns that a neighbor (Linda Lavin) is dealing with ghosts, Nancy sets out to find the logical reason behind floating lights, mysterious creatures and a house that comes to life. Help comes from two friends (Mackenzie Graham, Zoe Renee) and a frenemy, (Laura Wiggins).

In other incarnations, Nancy has been played with a massive curiosity spurred on by a spunky nature. Lillis brings the same level of curiosity, and she’s definitely not short of spunk. What makes this Nancy a little different is a little more of a tomboy element. Her chief method of travel is a skateboard, and she doesn’t mind bending the law if it helps her quest for the truth.

The story has some massive holes that can’t be discussed without giving away too much. But Lillis approaches her role with an unbridled energy that makes the character easy to like. She finds just the right amount of rebel to make Nancy tough and strong but never to the point where she comes across as being disrespectful. Director Katt Shea (“The Rage: Carrie 2”) has Lillis playing the role with almost a mischievous quality that works well.

Rick Bentley, Tribune News Service

 

Wonder Park

⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: PG for thematic elements

 

This animated adventure is part fantastical romp through a magical amusement park and part lesson on grappling with the fear of losing a parent. It’s a complicated dynamic where the two story lines are at odds with each other. The amazement at Wonder Park is dampened by the pall of grief that the protagonist is experiencing, while the wacky amusement park antics prevent the story from going very deep.

Wonder Park has been dreamed up by June (Brianna Denski) and her mother (Jennifer Garner). Their imagination crafts the outlandish attractions, like a carousel made of flying fish. But all the wonder goes out of the park when June’s mother gets seriously ill. June stops playing with her friends or dreaming up new designs for her park, instead developing an obsession with keeping her father (Matthew Broderick) healthy.

June enters a portal and finds herself at the amusement park of her dreams, and now she has to save it — which means she’s saving herself, because, of course, she is the wonder in Wonder Park. Imbuing a story like this with issues of grief and trauma can be a good lesson for kids, but it also makes the whole affair that much less splendiferous and that much more solemn.

Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service