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Quickie Review: Words on Bathroom Walls

Words on Bathroom Walls is the latest in a string of films adapted from popular novels – YA and otherwise. But as far as I can tell, it’s only being released in theaters at the moment, which makes it hard to find and even harder to break through as anything resembling a “must see” in the age of COVID-19. And that’s rather a shame, because the film explores a topic rarely seen on film and certainly not from this perspective. It tells the story of Adam (Charlie Plummer, All the Money in the World), a mostly typical teen who gets diagnosed with schizophrenia – and expelled – midway through his senior year of high school. He sometimes sees and hears people that aren’t there, which can lead to frightening psychotic breaks. Adam ends up getting accepted to a Catholic school on the condition he take his meds religiously. This prove difficult when the drugs interfere with his love of cooking (he dreams of going to culinary arts school) as well as his budding romance with Maya (Taylor Russell, Waves), the school’s smart, attractive, clever and industrious presumptive valedictorian. Adam tries to keep his mental illness a secret from Maya, and all his classmates, and ends up walking a very tight rope.

The movie is far from perfect. It leans heavily on Adam’s narration and exposition (sometimes aimed directly at the camera). And it doesn’t shift into any sort of emotional high gear until the last half-hour. But it does a decent job raising awareness, evoking empathy, and providing hope to teens diagnosed with schizophrenia – and to their families – without minimizing the illness. It’s not a distressing film to watch. In fact, there are plenty of moments of humor and sweetness and triumph. Andy Garcia provides some comic relief (and heart) as Father Patrick, the priest who listens to Adam’s confessions and tries to offer vague guidance, to which a cynical Adam replies at one point, “Being ambiguous doesn’t make you profound. It makes you full of shit.” Aint that the truth.

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