WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS
THREE STARS Adam is a teenager who is falling for Maya, the brightest kid in his class. He also suffers from schizophrenia.
Charlie Plummer, Taylor Russell
ROMANTIC DRAMA US #WORDSONBATHROOMWALLS
It’s clear from the start that WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS, a romantic, occasionally comic, drama about a teenager’s battle with schizophrenia, is intended as a thoughtful, respectful story. Director Thor Freudenthal attempts a film that doesn’t want to sugarcoat mental illness nor the devastating effects it has on the teenager and those around him. The film is all those things, but it’s also a muddled story with just enough missteps that turns it into an earnest studio vehicle rather than the honest indie film it so wants to be.
Think of BATHROOM WALLS as the awkward offspring of a woke John Hughes’ comedy that’s been paired with DONNIE DARKO and you’re most of the way there. Adam (Charlie Plummer) suffers debilitating hallucinations and is accompanied by three guiding voices of consciousness: a defensive bodyguard, a hopeful hippie and a lustful teen. Medication mostly helps quell their influence so Adam can function in the real world. The unflinching support of his mother (Molly Parker), a priest (Andy Garcia) and Molly’s new husband (Walton Goggin) helps. So does his friendship with cute Maya (Taylor Russell), a teenager with her own secrets. As they learn to share, Adam and Maya also learn they’re not as alone as they first thought (see above re John Hughes).
There’s nothing wrong with BATHROOM WALLS, a film notable for its courage in tackling a subject so few would. It’s also appealingly inventive as our POV suddenly flicks between our perception of the world and that of Adam as he’s plunged into various psychotic states. Plummer and Taylor are easy company and there's compelling support from Garcia, Goggins and the always wonderful Parker. Freudenthal keeps a tidy pace, production values are commendable.
The film begins to wobble whenever we’re taken through the mirror into Adam’s hallucinations, followed by a dark fog of CGI from which demons growl. It’s too Scooby-Doo for this kind of material, with more tonal weight lost by The Voices whose two-dimensionality turns them into ill-judged comic distractions. Every appearance feels overwrought and mis-timed. The result is that these and other missteps apply too much gloss to an illness that can only be grittier, darker and nastier to live with than it appears here.
WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS is undoubtedly heart felt and should resonate with the open-minded teenage audience it was created for. I hope it does. Yet it can only ever be conversation starter. The story they’re telling is too big for a vehicle this size.