Based on Julia Walton’s 2017 young adult novel of the same name, “Words on Bathroom Walls,” now on EST, VOD, DVD and Blu-ray, follows a teenager, diagnosed with schizophrenia, navigating mental illness and life in a new school. “How hard could it be to hide my burgeoning insanity from the unforgiving ecosystem that is high school?” says Adam Petrazelli (Charlie Plummer) in the film’s opening moments.
Adam is a foodie with dreams of being a chef but when he accidentally injures a classmate during a psychotic break in lab class his future is jeopardized. A diagnosis of treatment resistant schizophrenia leaves him ostracized from his former friends. They taunt him in the halls—“Where’s the straightjacket?” and call him “freak” as he confronts the voices in his head, the new-agey Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb), the Bodyguard (Lobo Sebastian) and troublemaker Joaquin (Devon Bostick), a varied group he calls “my inescapable roommates.”
A new drug trial offers hope, as does a switch to a new Catholic school. For the first time in ages he feels like he has autonomy over his life. “I woke up to complete silence. No whispers. No banter. No visions. Just pure, unfiltered, beautiful quiet.” His friendship with valedictorian Maya (Taylor Russell) blossoms, but as the medication slowly affects his ability to cook he struggles to hide the side effects from mother (Molly Parker) and step dad (Walton Goggins).
“Words on a Bathroom Wall” is a coming-of-age story with a difference. Adam’s journey with schizophrenia is sensitively handled, with director Thor Freudenthal finding inventive ways to put the viewer into the main character’s shoes. The voices and hallucinations are brought to life without sensationalism or exploitation. Instead, they show us what is happening in Adam’s mind as he navigates the minefield of high school and first love. Far from demonizing his disease, as has been the case in other less humane cinematic depictions of schizophrenia, they add dimension to the story.
Plummer hands in a break out performance as Adam. He’s an awkward teen, a dutiful son who learns how to cook to comfort his mother and a teen struggling with an illness. His subtle performance goes a long way to creating a character in three-dimensions who is both strong and vulnerable. He shares good chemistry with Russell who brings depth to an underwritten Maya.
“Words on a Bathroom Wall” hits hard before settling into more familiar, optimistic territory but the respectful tone established early on makes up for the sappiness that bogs down the film’s final moments.