What most high schoolers have to deal with is simple. You wake up, text your friends, grab a quick breakfast, then head out the door to avoid your nagging parents, go to school, go from class to class, rush out of school when the last bell rings, date someone, maybe settle down with that person you both get out of college. This is the same for most young-adult films. Some try to be more ambitious, but frequently drop the notion once it gets too serious. Instead, Words on Bathroom Walls decides to get serious with a mental health disorder that society would instead push aside.
When you are a cancer kid, people can’t wait to flock to your aid, they are so eager to grant you any wish before you die. But when you have Schizophrenia, people can’t wait to make you someone else’s problem, thats why we end up on the streets screaming at nothing, waiting to die. No one wants to grant our wishes.Charlie Plummer as Adam, Words on Bathroom Walls
Those are the words of Adam (Charlie Plummer), a high school senior who has a passion for cooking and is diagnosed with paranoid Schizophrenia. After an episode causes him to be expelled from his public high school, his mom (Molly Parker) enrolls him at a Catholic high school, where he meets Maya (Taylor Russell), who is the school’s valedictorian.
Adam’s episodes manifest in visions, three hallucinatory guardians (AnnaSophia Robb, Lobo Sebastian, and Devon Bostick). To conceal his condition at his new school, Adam decides to listen to his mom’s wishes to join an experimental drug trial. As he grows closer to Maya, Adam struggles to keep control of his condition.
Directed by Thor Freudenthal (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Diary of Wimpy Kid) and adapted for the screen by Nick Naveda from the best-selling novel of the same name by Julia Walton, the film never pushes Adam’s condition to the side, instead keeping it front and center for much of the film. Even when Adam isn’t onscreen or talking about the condition itself, the presence still rears its ugly head during the course of Adam trying to seem “normal.”
As serious as the film is, there are moments of humor and the romantic relationship Adam is trying to foster with Maya. The scenes the two share are filled with quippy dialogue, funny, and dig deep into respecting both as individuals rather as a pair right away. Most YA films force this bond, so it’s nice to see a more adult approach to a teenage love story.
What doesn’t work about the film is a short list. There are moments where sound in a scene sounded flat, and there’s a mix of religious, psychological, and social metaphors that just don’t work. I won’t go into specifics because it is integral to the story, but the film tries to make Adam’s new school “the bad guys” of the film when there is no basis for it in anything we see of Adam’s life.
Plummer is probably the star of the show here among the stacked cast list. His portrayal of Schizophrenia is one that never feels over-the-top. Taylor Russell is excellent as well, playing two sides of the same coin. At one moment, Russell could be tough and mean and give an excellent speech on the definition of a word the next. The secondary cast does a great job of expanding how Adam is seen by his mom, his step-dad (Walton Goggins), and his hallucinations (Robb, Sebastian, Bostick). Each of them brings a unique element to the table and is some of the best character acting I’ve seen this year.
This film has a fantastic score courtesy of Andrew Hollander and The Chainsmokers. I always believe that the score or whatever music included in a movie should be a character in and of itself. Given the context of what the film is trying to do, I think Andrew Hollander does a great job incorporating some more traditional music to tell the scene’s story. At the same time, The Chainsmokers provide the synthwave beats that everyone knows them for. It’s not that The Chainsmokers do a terrible job, it’s just that their formula for creating music shows its structure too many times along the film’s runtime.
If you’re looking for a new movie to watch and you’re at all interested in what I just said, be sure to check it out.