‘Words on Bathroom Walls’ might not be the most notable title in the world, but the film is beautifully written. It has brilliant characters, a unique love story, and excellent casting. I was intrigued from beginning to end.
At moments, I thought it brushed on being incredibly profound and even tender. In my opinion, the topic the film touches upon has rarely been handled quite so well. That topic is of mental illness. Within, we see what the world is like for Adam, played by Charlie Plummer, a teenage boy afflicted with the condition. Adam has immensely acute hallucinations, believing he can see and hear people who affect his life to such a degree that he cannot separate them from what is real and what is not. When what he’s going through can no longer be ignored, he’s taken to the doctor and is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. At least he can now give his condition a name. The movie is based on a novel written by Julia Walton. If the book is as good or better than this movie, my advice is that it’s a book worth picking up as soon as possible.
Something that really caught my attention is what or rather who it is that Adam sees. The visual and auditory hallucinations are his ‘protectors.’ He embraces them because he doesn’t believe he’ll ever be normal. There’s a bodyguard, a horny best friend named Joaquin, and a female with a gentle voice who is always there for support. They’re all there to be loyal only to Adam. He takes comfort in that; he likes them, but after going to a new school, he also starts liking the idea of living life without them.
Adam’s mother is played expertly by Molly Parker. She’s a single mother, and mother and son have gotten along magnificently without Adam’s father in the picture. Adam cooks and, with her support, has set his sights on a culinary school to become a chef. Not far into the film, she introduces Adam to her new boyfriend Paul, played by the wonderfully gifted actor, Walton Goggins. It’s when the boyfriend enters the picture that things begin to reach a boiling point for Adam. We soon witness the behavior of a son who has never had to share his mother with anyone and doesn’t like the idea of doing it now either. No matter what, she’s a dutiful and caring mother and does extensive research on his disease to help find where he should go for the best treatment, and which meds are best to take.
When Adam is in his new school, the movie moves at a different pace. We’re then and introduced to even more outstanding characters. He’s attending a Catholic school that agrees to enroll him with certain conditions. Keep that in mind. He eventually has conversations with an understanding priest named Father Patrick. The father is played by Andy Garcia. With his expertise in acting, he plays the father with a loving and warm sense of humor. Adam is happy someone is actually hearing him, not just observing him and Father Patrick is grateful Adam is willing to listen to what he has to say.
Then we get into the very non-traditional love story going on in the film, as well. The love is between Adam and Maya, played by Taylor Russell. Like I was able to, I’ll let you discover how this unfolds on your own except to say you’ll be pleased with the direction the story takes. For once, a teenage relationship in a movie doesn’t become just another sappy, typical boring adolescent love story in a movie. Nick Naveda’s script has a depth that you’ll be happy to discover, and Thor Freudenthal’s film will be one you’ll be excited to watch more than once. Not every filmmaker can compare mental illness to cancer and make it an incredibly poignant moment you can’t tear yourself away from seeing unfold. Prepare yourself for a powerful ending. ‘Words on Bathroom Walls’ accomplishes all of that and so much more while treating the disorder with considerable compassion at the same time. It’s definitely one of the best films of the year.
Words on Bathroom Walls
Director: Thor Freudenthal
Writers: Nick Naveda (screenplay), Julia Walton (novel)
Stars: AnnaSophia Robb, Walton Goggins, Andy Garcia, Taylor Russell, Molly Parker and Charlie Plummer
Running Time: 1h 51m