Teenage-romance angst movies? We’ve seen a lot of them. They follow a standard formula and we always know where they’re going to land. Words On Bathroom Walls is the exception. This is something completely different and audiences won’t see where this one is heading in a narrative which is thoroughly powerful and wraps your emotions up in a very tight knot.
Diagnosed with a mental illness halfway through his senior year of high school, a witty, introspective teen struggles to keep it a secret while falling in love with a brilliant classmate who inspires him to not be defined by his condition.
Director Thor Freudenthal has made a career for himself with quirky kids comedies, but he makes a sharp left turn with Words On Bathroom Walls and finds himself in the midst of a very heavy drama. Adapted from the book by Julia Walton, Words On Bathroom Walls is an incredibly innovative and eclectic look at teenage life viewed through the frame of mental illness. And it gets very frank with its subject matter. Freudenthal takes his audience inside the headspace of normal everyday teen Adam Petrazelli (Charlie Plummer), who develops schizophrenia and whose life becomes even more complicated than before. With a burning sense of deep honesty, Freudenthal examines Adam’s journey through his hectic teenage life and offers up moments that hit incredibly hard, and with a lot of heart.
Front and centre in the film is rising star Charlie Plummer as Adam Petrazelli, a teenager with a talent and passion for cooking who suddenly develops a severe case of schizophrenia, and whose life suddenly is rapidly different. Living in a headspace with three distinct personalities, who include spacey Coachella girl Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb), horny teenager Joaquin (Devon Bostick) and big-time bruiser The Protector (Lobo Sebastian), Adam tries to live out his life until he’s subjected to a psychotic break and everything rapidly spins out of control. Forced into a new school, he faces new responsibilities and has a desire to appear as normal as possible no matter the cost.
As Adam, Plummer is incredibly sincere in his portrayal of a young man suffering from mental illness. While he has his good days and his bad days, he tries everything he can to move forward in his life….even though it can sometimes get complicated. Plummer’s portrayal of Adam is a character you can deeply root for, he’s an underdog in every sense of the word and as he tries to live his life as best he can he inevitably falls down and it’s in these moments where Plummer’s performance is the most interesting.
Standing opposite Adam as his love interest is Taylor Russell as Maya, and her performance in Words On Bathroom Walls again cements her position as one of the best young actresses in the business. Maya is the all-around academic superstar and slowly but steadily forms a relationship with Adam throughout the beats of the narrative. However, like Adam, Maya is also holding back on her own secrets and is far more complex than she likes to let on. As we’ve come to expect from Russell, her performance in Words On Bathroom Walls is incredibly sincere and heartfelt and she’s definitely the girl that Adam needs in his corner.
Finally bringing the narrative complete in Words On Bathroom Walls is the duel presence of Molly Parker as Adam’s mother Beth and Walton Goggins as Adam’s stepdad Paul. Parker is incredibly maternal in the part of Beth and you can feel her mother’s love struggling to deal with her son’s condition and the hardships that it visits on her. Goggins, on the other hand, spends much of the film in a battle of wits with Adam, who deeply disapproves of him, but it’s soon made apparent that Goggins has Adam’s best interests in mind and will do whatever he has to do in order to protect his son. Both Parker and Goggins make an excellent family unit, and Words On Bathroom Walls is all the stronger because of their inclusion in it.
Words On Bathroom Walls is one of those films that strikes at your heart with its story and there are moments that will have you feeling every kind of emotion possible. As a film, it’s a deeply moving experience because of the way in which it approaches its subject matter and the honesty that it gives to its main character and his battle with schizophrenia. We don’t normally see teenage lead stories of this depth, and Freudenthal and his cast give everything of themselves to deliver this incredible piece of cinema to the big screen.
For audiences who are seeking a truly moving piece of cinema to indulge in, I highly recommend Words On Bathroom Walls as it is easily one of the best films of the entire year and features a story and a character who you won’t soon forget.
Image: Sony Pictures