Just the description of the film made me intrigued. I’ve family and friends who deal with various mental illnesses, if not this particular one. Many of us don’t like to talk about it or even think about it but this movie tackles the topic head-on. Once I viewed the film, I was riveted by both the performances and the presentation of the main character’s schizophrenia. The story is engaging, heartbreaking, and authentic, with a cast that does a fantastic job with the subject matter.
A drama film directed by Thor Freudenthal and written by Nick Naveda, based on a book of the same name by Julia Walton, Words on Bathroom Walls is about a young man, Adam Petrazelli (Charlie Plummer), who dreams of being a chef. Halfway through his senior year, he is expelled from his high school after having a breakdown and is diagnosed with Schizophrenia. His mother (Molly Parker) along with her boyfriend Paul (Walter Scoggins) decides to enroll him in a Catholic school to finish out the term. Once enrolled, he makes a connection with Maya (Taylor Russell). But the medication he is taking has side effects and eventually, he has to be honest about his struggles and Maya inspires him to not be defined by his condition.
There are so many excellent qualities to this young adult drama but the biggest is the way it tackles mental illness head-on and doesn’t flinch from illuminating the many difficulties surrounding a diagnosis of mental illness. Symptoms include losing a sense of reality, hallucinations, delusions such as paranoia, and altered perceptions. One of the tools the movie uses to demonstrate some of Adam’s struggles is through presenting the story from his point of view, including his hallucinations, embodied by three constructs, the Bodyguard (Lobo Sebastian), Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb), and Joaquin (Devon Bostick). We also get Adam’s thoughts and a dark voice that attempts to drag him down the path into suicide and self-harm. These moments lend weight to Adam’s difficulties but also give us flashes of humor in how he interacts with each of the constructs and the advice they give him, some of which is part of who he is and helps him handle the darker moments.
The other aspect to the story is the connections Adam has in his life, his interactions with his mother who is trying so hard to find a way to help her son and his new connection to Maya, who doesn’t know the truth in the beginning but still helps Adam both with school and with caring when she learns his truth. Adam also finds support from Paul despite not seeing that support. And Andy Garcia as a priest at the school is another that gives Adam advice during his stay at the school. These connections and the presentation of how critical they are to Adam’s wellbeing is realistic to anyone with any health condition and the way the story demonstrates that mental illness is just another health condition and does not define Adam is beautiful.
The acting is critical to how well the story is presented. Charlie Plummer is dynamic, is intense, and engaging as Adam, his chemistry with Taylor Russell is amazing and his portrayal of Adam is genuine and passionate. Taylor Russell is transcendently brilliant as Maya. Her presentation is insightful and realistic. Maya has her own struggles and secrets and those help build the relationship between her and Adam. Taylor does a fantastic job with those emotions resonating intelligence and caring. Molly Parker is beautiful as Adam’s mother as she works to help her son and Walter Scoggins displays a subtly powerful performance as the father figure in Adam’s life. Andy Garcia is amazing as a councilor for Adam. Some of the best presentations are by Adam’s hallucinations. Lobo Sebastian, AnnaSophia Robb, and Devon Bostick add an incredible amount of humor as well as insight into Adam’s character. And all three actors are amazingly skilled.
While the story can be painful, as it shows both the highs and lows of Adam’s condition, it is realistic and genuine. There are heartbreaking scenes but there are also moments that make you root for Adam and fall in love. It is a powerful film with wonderful performances and insight into mental illness. There are many young people who would not only enjoy this movie but also find it helpful to see that mental illness should not be a stigma and doesn’t have to define a person. Whether you are a young person yourself, whether you have a mental condition or not, I feel most people will find this insightful, beautiful, genuine, and well worth finding the time to watch.
Rating: 5 out of 5 hallucinations.
Website: Words on Bathroom Walls: Get Tickets | Roadside Attractions