Words on Bathroom Walls (M, 110mins) Directed by Thor Freudenthal ***½
At first, Adam Petrizelli (Lean on Pete’s Charlie Plummer) just thought there was something wrong with his eyes. Then, he started hearing voices.
After his father abandoned him and his mom (Lost in Space’s Molly Parker), his life and brain increasingly become something of a “dumpster fire”.
With cooking the only thing that seems to quell the noise, Adam makes plans to attend culinary school once he graduates from high school later in the year. However, when he causes a chemistry class “accident” that injures a fellow student, that dream is put in jeopardy by his subsequent school expulsion. At least his “extravaganza” results in a diagnosis – schizophrenia – and a chance to try a trial drug.
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Given a second chance at a new Catholic school, Adam befriends the energetic and entrepreneurial Maya (Lost in Space’s Taylor Russell), who he enlists to help him get his maths grades up.
With his new pills bringing him welcome silence, Adam appears set for a bright future, that is, until the muscle-twitching side effects begin to affect his knife skills. As he contemplates abandoning his new regime and letting the voices back in, Adam also worries that Maya will discover the real him. What he doesn’t realise is that she has been holding back secrets of her own.
Based on the novel of the same name by Julia Walton, Words on Bathroom Walls is a superior “teen disease of the week movie” that tries not to pull many punches with its depiction of schizophrenia.
Yes, Plummer and Russell are a cute, screwball-esque, cine-literate couple (they bond over Drew Barrymore rom-com Never Been Kissed and Adam likes to draw comparisons between his life and Will Hunting’s) a la those featured in The Fault in Our Stars, Five Feet Apart and the like, but there are complications to their lives that these kind of movies don’t always explore. Importantly, Maya isn’t some manic pixie dream girl, but rather a talented young woman charged with keeping her family afloat, as well as focusing on her own future.
Then there’s Adam’s parents. Rather than the usual tropes of his mother being a saint and her new partner Paul (Justified’s Walton Goggins) being a bully or heel, there are nuances and shades that only come into play as director Thor Freudenthal (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Hotel for Dogs) and screenwriter Nick Naveda’s adaptation reaches its denouement. And while the visualisation of Adam’s schizophrenia comes across like a combination of The Neverending Story’s Nothing and Inside Out’s quartet of emotions, it’s an effective tool for revealing what he’s up against each day.
Andy Garcia (The Untouchables) turns up somewhat unexpectedly as a sympathetic priest, the understated score has been put together by electronic duo The Chainsmokers and there are some clever, slightly unpredictable twists.
Words on Bathroom Walls’ messages that Adam has an illness, but he’s not the illness itself” and that it’s important to “let people discover all your dark and twisty places” aren’t exactly subtle, but they are welcome and entertainingly delivered.