The human brain controls every function in our body. It allows us to experience the five senses, form memories and wonder what it going on with us on the inside. Mental illness has long been a phrase that people don’t like to talk about. It’s either mentioned in regards to someone being sick or perhaps a deranged individual who could possibly hurt someone. It’s a tragedy that talking about real issues among people falls under the shadow of avoidance or denial. Words on Bathroom Walls is a film that brings someone with a mental illness to the forefront and as we come to get to know this person better, we are left leaving the theater in utter silence. It’s an effective film that boasts an excellent script, wonderful direction and an amazing cast to tie it all together.
We are introduced to Adam (Charlie Plummer), a senior in high school who notices that something is different about him. He’s starting to hear voices and even sees people who are out of place. We get to learn who these characters are but only Adam can see them. When the voice inside his head gets louder and louder, a dark black cloud forms around Adam seemingly blocking out everything and everyone around him. It’s here that he suffers his first mental breakdown, or psychotic break. An incident happens at his school which causes him to be suspended. He is later diagnosed with schizophrenia to which his mother Beth (Molly Parker) takes the news very hard. She seeks out all the doctors she can and is looking for the same thing that every parent wants- a cure for her son. Adam tells us these things in scenes when he’s talking to his psychiatrist. We don’t see who he’s talking to even though he’s communicating his story to us, the audience.
Adam starts taking medication and is consistently switching to see which drugs have the best effect. Adam’s father left the family a long time ago so it’s just him and his mother. To add more complications to the mix, Molly has a new boyfriend named Paul (Walton Goggins), who’s seems like a nice enough guy even though Adam doesn’t consider him to be a step-father figure. Adam is sent to a Catholic School mid-way through his senior year after his removal from his previous school. All three of them meet with Sister Catherine (Beth Grant) who inform her of Adam’s condition but wants it kept secret from the staff and students at the school. He has to keep good grades and stay on his medication in order to remain at the school, something Adam agrees to.
Adam adjusts well to the new surroundings but is seen as a bit odd because he usually keeps to himself. During lunch, a senior named Maya (Taylor Russell) approaches him and strikes up a conversation. They met a couple of days earlier in the bathroom; don’t ask, it’s sort of a funny story. They become friends and even share a few classes together. Remember when I said that Adam can see people who aren’t actually there, well they play a big part in this film. There are three of them. We have Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb) who’s a free-spirited thinker and serves as the positive voice for Adam. Next, we have Joaquin (Devon Bostick) who he is the guy who has sex on his mind and attempts to lure Adam into the world of sexual exploration. Finally, we have The Bodyguard (Lobo Sebastian), we don’t know his name but anytime Adam is feeling threatened, he shows up ready to settle anything that comes his way. All three of these characters are in Adam’s head but when he sees them, it’s as if they are actually there.
If you’ve seen the trailers for this film already, you might guess that some romance does spark in the film and be sure that it isn’t played for cheap thrills, it’s written and introduced in a way that feels natural and sweet. Maya and Adam spark a friendship, also she’s his tutor, and their chemistry together feels real and genuine. Maya does start to notice Adam acting a bit strange but he shrugs it off as nothing. Deep down he’s afraid to reveal to the world that he has a mental disorder for fear that people will look at him differently or even worse, associate him with his disease. It’s a fear that keeps him awake but with the hopes of entering Culinary school and becoming a chef, he wants to pursue his dreams even though he feels he has a major setback that could hinder him.
I know, I know, I’ve rambled too much about the plot of this movie but there’s a lot to talk about. Words on Bathroom Walls is based on the novel of the same name by Julia Walton which was told from a diary point of view and the screenplay that was written by Nick Naveda brings those images in the book into a smooth transition into film. Director Thor Freudenthal does a fine job is crafting a wonderful story and also adding these images so that the audience can get a visual perspective of what’s going on in Adam’s mind. It was so uplifting to watch a movie about the struggles of a young man who’s dealing with insurmountable odds and how finding people who won’t give up on him gives me hope that there are decent people out there in this cruel world.
Another character that I forgot to mention earlier is Father Patrick (Andy Garcia) who consoles Adam from time to time even though Adam doesn’t believe in God and is attending a Catholic School! Their scenes together are similar to Adam talking to a father figure apart from the father who left him years ago, someone he can tell his secrets and feelings without fear of judgment. There are moments in this movie that hit home with me. I suffer with a mental illness and it’s a struggle everyday and this film did bring up reminders that I’ve experienced in my life. I was moved, I cried and I cheered when he finally kissed Maya for the first time! The story they share is so valid, powerful and uplifting akin to the romance of Noah and Allie in The Notebook. All in all this is a wonderful film!
Score 5 out of 5
Words on Bathroom Walls is more than a film about teenage love in high school; it involves the struggles of someone coming to terms with having a life changing mental disorder and the fear of that secret being exposed. The contemplation if people will accept you for all your faults and what’s it’s like to find someone who’s willing to understand you no matter what you go through together. This is a film that doesn’t mock mental illness as a freak show or some mad killer, and instead talks about it in a way that everyone should- with openness and acceptance. Charlie Plummer is absolutely fabulous in this movie and I felt the pain that he did, the sadness when the paranoia kicks in and the fear when that black cloud consumes you. I love the visual aid presented in this movie and it adds an effective layer into the inner workings of this young man’s brain. This is one of the year’s best films!