Film Review: Words On Bathroom Walls Dir: Thor Freudenthal

Starring: Charlie Plummer, Andy Garcia, AnnaSophia Robb, Taylor Russell

“A person with an illness is not the illness itself” is repeated throughout Words On Bathroom Walls, a YA film about a teenager living with schizophrenia. This message is tempered with the painful reality that those living with mental illness are perceived and treated quite differently from those with a physical illness.

Aspiring chef and high school student Adam, played by Charlie Plummer, is diagnosed after a psychotic episode in chemistry class. As part of his condition he sees and hears a bunch of characters that impede any sense of calm. Bohemian free spirit Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb) wants Adam to find love, Bodyguard (Lobo Sebastian) wants to baseball bat everyone in Adam’s path, horny dude Joaquin (Devon Bostick) is the splitting image of the Klaus from The Umbrella Academy, and a black fog overcomes Adam at his darkest points orating doom and helplessness.

After Adam is kicked out of his local school, he is accepted into a Catholic school where he meets Maya (Taylor Russell), the valedictorian shoo-in and “Bernie Madoff of academic fraud” who is keeping her own secrets as to why she’s the school’s essay writer for hire. Adam attempts to hide his condition from Maya and his school mates for fear of being ostracized. Adam’s mum Beth is somewhat ridiculed by her relentless pursuit for wanting to find a cure to ‘fix’ her son. New stepdad Paul (Walton Goggins) is the cliché asshole stepparent that is misunderstood and made nice guy by the end of the film. Adam is put on a programme trialling a new medication, and the scenes in the Tozaprex psychiatrist’s office where Adam talks directly to the camera are the most cinematically powerful the film has to offer.

Based on the book with the same name by author Julia Walton, Words on Bathroom Walls is a sweet, easy to watch but overly polished film that veers away from delving too far into the not so pretty complexities of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.  Director Thor Freudenthal (known for Diary of a Wimpy Kid), was unwilling to get his feet dirty in the grit of real life in this film. As such, it lacks any real profundity that teenagers affected by this condition deserve to have portrayed in the mainstream. Having grown up with a family member with schizophrenia, the film did not add anything to my experience as an observer of the disorder. The atheist in me did enjoy Adam respectfully pushing back against Father Patrick’s (Andy Garcia) appeals to payer as answer with his ‘you can pray for me Father but I will never believe in God’ stance.

The acting in the film by all is faultless, and it is commendable to see the mainstream start to engage with dialogue around metal health issues. It’s a real pity though that the film sticks firmly to Hollywood YA ‘boy meets girl, they overcome some life challenges and fall in love’ territory that I’m sure today’s teenagers must be bored with.

Andy Baker