Mental health challenges can be a difficult subject to delve into in a coming of age movie. However, the latest YA novel film adaptation does a very good job of doing just that.
Words on Bathroom Walls is the story of high school senior Adam (Charlie Plummer), who after a violent incident in chemistry class, is diagnosed with schizophrenia and the illness plays havoc with his life. Expelled from his school, Adam winds up at a Catholic school with the understanding that he would remain on his medication.
While at the school, he comes in contact with the school valedictorian Maya (Taylor Russell) and they form a connection. Maya, outspoken and intelligent, has a secret of her own. Adam keeps his schizophrenia under wraps to the best of his ability, but, when the medication starts to cause side effects that were affecting his life, Adam stopped taking them.
During the film, Adam’s “voices” were being shown through delusions of three, in particular, people only Adam could see. The Bodyguard (Lobo Sebastian), Joaquin (Devon Bostick) and Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb) are only seen by Adam, but they seem to be trying to give him support in the only way they can. There is also a disembodied voice that only Adam can hear and tended toward the darker mindset.
I thought this was a very effective way to show these voices in Adam’s head without stigmatizing them and showing Adam as someone who is not human. Many times, mental illness is shown as evil or uncontrolled and it makes the characters unrelatable. Adam is very much relatable and you feel for his struggles. As he continues to sink deeper into his mental illness, you worry desperately that the movie is setting up the stage for something tragic to happen.
The film does an excellent job of showing that there is not a “cure” for this kind of mental illness and that it is not just going to go away magically at the end of the film.
There are some excellent performances here. Charlie Plummer is exceptional as Adam. He carries this movie with his understated and challenging work. Taylor Russell is another young actress who I think has a bright future as a star in this business. She commands her screen time and plays brilliantly off of Plummer. These two characters have a massive role to play and their chemistry exceeds the expectation.
Another performance that was very wonderful here was Walton Goggins, who plays the recent step father of Adam. Goggins has several layers to play and his work is subtle and really provides an excellent pay off. Andy Garcia is here too is a cool supporting role as Father Patrick, who bonds with Adam inside the confessional.
There are some powerful moments in Words on Bathroom Walls that brought a tear to my eyes. You form a connection with these characters and you want there to be a chance that they make it out of the darkness. Mental illness has such a stigma in our world that this film does a magnificent job of showing that we should look a little deeper before we judge the people afflicted.