Words On Bathroom Walls: Review. By Nick Boyd.
“Words on Bathroom Walls” is a very affecting movie about a teen’s struggle with mental illness. Adam (played by a likeable Charlie Plummer) suffers from schizophrenia, a serious mental disorder that can include hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior. Early on in the film, after a traumatic incident in school, Adam has to transfer schools midway through his senior year.
The film depicts the hallucinations that Adam sees (a bodyguard, a wingman guy named Joaquin, and a positive influence hippie sort named Rebecca). Adam worries about what might happen if his new schoolmates were to find out about his mental illness, especially a girl whom he has a crush on named Maya (played with confidence by Taylor Russell).
Adam’s parents enroll him in an experimental drug treatment process to treat his schizophrenia, which he has reservations about due to the side effects. In addition to the physical annoyances, one that particularly worries him is his sense of taste seems to be weakened, which for an aspiring chef is no small matter. Adam’s passion for cooking is what truly brings him joy – being able to cook delicious meals that his mom really savors and more importantly, that quiet the voices in his head. Depicting a young man’s passion with such detail is a rare thing in teen pictures.
Adam first sees Maya in of all places a bathroom before he has even started his first day at his new school. He observes Maya and another student furtively exchanging school material and is asked to keep quiet on the matter. When they meet again in the lunchroom, Adam asks Maya if she would be willing to tutor him, which she agrees to. As the two of them get to know each other, a romance develops but not in a schmaltzy Hollywood kind of way. Maya calls out Adam on his shy, awkward demeanor and he in turn asks why she always bluntly speaks her mind. Their chemistry and attraction to each other is believable and convincing. In one powerful and moving scene, Maya sticks up for Adam when he gets made fun of running into old schoolmates.
While Adam makes a concerted effort to not let others know about his schizophrenia, Maya also has a secret that she desperately tries to keep hidden. When Adam does find out, his reaction is understanding and caring. This subplot of the movie involving Maya is handled in a sensitive, straight on way, allowing the viewer to see another layer.
While the film has a lot going for it, there were some shortcomings that I thought brought it down a bit. Adam’s hallucinations are a distraction and take the viewer out of the plot temporarily. Also, allowing Adam to speak at his school’s graduation after he has been expelled seemed far-fetched.
The movie has a focus not often seen in films; it takes us into the mind of someone dealing with a serious mental illness. As Adam notes, when someone has cancer, everyone rallies and is empathetic, but where is the same support for someone with a disease of the mind such as schizophrenia? The performances by both Plummer and Russell are quite good, as each is willing to show the vulnerabilities within themselves. The film’s insights and honesty resonate and make this a rewarding watch.
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