Words on Bathroom Walls revolves around a teenage romance but only as a way to showcase its core theme – living with mental illness.
Charlie Plummer plays Adam, a teenager who is diagnosed with schizophrenia after he begins to see and hear things that aren’t there. His visual manifestations come in the form of a baseball bat-wielding bodyguard (Lobo Sebastian), who keeps Adam’s destructive side in check, a sexually frivolous teen called Joaquin (Devon Bostick), who nudges Adam to take risks in the romance department, and Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb), a hippie girl who serves as the voice of reason in Adam’s decision-making process. An auditory manifestation is also present, which is the threatening voice in Adam’s head that always talks down to him.
Adam copes with these hallucinations with the use of prescription drugs (that rarely help) while navigating high-school-life at a Catholic school (the only school that will accept him), and balancing his love of cooking, his budding romance with classmate Maya (Taylor Russell), and his strenuous family life, which has seen a new man (Walton Goggins) recently enter the picture and move in with him and his mother (Molly Parker).
An adaptation of the young-adult novel of the same name by Julia Walton, Words on Bathroom Walls covers the somewhat (still) taboo topic of mental illness in a dynamic, and entertaining way, from the perspective of the affected person. Director Thor Freudenthal does, however, make sure to highlight the effect that living with mental illness has on everyone involved, making for a broader interpretation of what it’s like having an illness dominate each facet of a family’s life. While Adam has to live with the sickness, it’s his loved ones that have to deal with the emotional repercussions that come with it. Freudenthal pays attention to this aspect of the topic, which gives the characters in the film more emotional weight, allowing the audience to get invested in each of them.
Adam’s imaginary friends provide a few laughs throughout the film, often lightening the tone of what could have easily been a dark and dreary portrayal of mental illness instead. This coupled with all of the characters being generally likable, makes for easy, unchallenging viewing. Its style is one that’s accessible to all audiences and is most likely the ideal way to get the message across to as many people as possible. The biggest challenge for the filmmakers is to get the anti-teen-romance movie people to go and see it, and while the marketing does indicate that the film prominently features a teen romance, Words on Bathroom Walls is a lot more than that and has enough in it to convert even the most unwavering viewers.
Words on Bathroom Walls is an excellent coming-of-age teen romance film that features outstanding performances with a story and characters that you can emotionally invest in, told in a unique style. It’s thought-provoking at times and always engaging, making for a great addition to the young-adult sub-genre of cinema.
Molly Parker and Taylor Russell play mother and daughter in the TV series Lost in Space.