WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS (2020)
Starring Charlie Plummer, Taylor Russell, Molly Parker, Walton Goggins, Andy Garcia, AnnaSophia Robb, Beth Grant, Devon Bostick, Lobo Sebastian, Aaron Dominguez, Reinaldo Faberlle, Jeris Donovan, Iain Tucker, Sean Michael Weber, Drew Scheid, Anthony J. Police, Ellie Dusek, Blaque Fowler, Cruz Abelita, Evan Whitten, Shea Brianne Wixson and Pam Smith.
Screenplay by Nick Naveda.
Directed by Thor Freudenthal.
Distributed by Roadside Attractions. 111 minutes. Rated PG-13.
There are few things more overly dramatic and self-absorbed than a teenager. I’m not saying that as a dig, just as a statement of fact. I was one once and I was as overdramatic and self-absorbed as anyone.
The one place where that sense of grandeur and sometimes self-pity is not only accepted but celebrated and accentuated is in YA (Young Adult) literature. Authors have made a mint wallowing in that world of the seemingly massive slights of high school which eventually make people who they are.
Because of the basic emotional neediness of the audience, YA novels tend to take on taboo, even tragic subjects. They deal with things like cancer and death, worldwide dystopia, suicidal tendencies, poverty, racial unrest, and many other hot-button topics.
It makes you wonder. Are there any subjects which may be too dark even for YA?
Take Words on Bathroom Walls, a new film based upon a YA novel of the same name by Julia Walton. It takes a truly horrifying and debilitating mental disease – schizophrenia – and uses it as a very dark background for what is otherwise a fairly standard drama about learning how to fit in, family drama, bullying, high school survival and a cute teen romance.
So, the question is: Does Words on Bathroom Walls slightly trivialize what is a truly tragic, life-altering mental condition? And the answer is, yeah, kind of, a little bit.
Which is not to say that Words on Bathroom Walls is the first film to take this profoundly serious subject way too lightly. Even A Beautiful Mind, arguably the most critically acclaimed film look at schizophrenia, was accused of getting specifics of the disease wrong, specifically exaggerating the hallucinations and the cure. Other films on the subject, like Benny & Joon, Savage Grace and The Fisher King, like this film, used the disease as seasoning for a mostly different basic storyline.
However, I am not reviewing those films – I am talking about Words on Bathroom Walls. And, while I think they have their hearts in the right place, I think the filmmakers really missed the boat here.
Part of the problem, honestly, is the lead character. Adam (played by Charlie Plummer, who was so good playing the kidnapped Getty heir in All the Money in the World) is kind of a bit hard to take. As with so many YA heroes, he is self-obsessed, thinks he’s always right and at the same time he’s being so mistreated. He’s constantly feeling sorry for himself and hiding his feelings from others. All he really cares about is going to culinary school.
He’s absolutely obnoxious to his mother’s new boyfriend (Walton Goggins), even though the guy is never less than nice and giving to him, and the dude didn’t sign up for all this when he started dating Adam’s mom (Molly Parker), but he’s still around trying to help. In fact, everyone seems to dote on him, from his mom to the cute girl at his new school (Taylor Russell).
And speaking of his new school, Adam tries to vilify them, at graduation no less, for expelling him even though when he originally signed up for school – the only school that would take him after problems at his last school due to his condition – their one proviso was that in order to stay in the school, he had to stay on his meds. He didn’t – for reasons which may or may not be valid – but they shouldn’t act like it was a surprise or unfair that the school came down on him when he broke the one hard and fast rule he was given.
Yes, he does have a horrific condition and that does give him the right to be moody, but honestly, I could never warm up to the character. Yes, life has dealt him a shitty hand, but that really doesn’t mean that he should wallow in his misery, be nasty to people in his life and never let the audience forget how unfair his life is.
His schizophrenia is shown in ways that seem even a bit more exaggerated than A Beautiful Mind, although I suppose that it does show the horrific hallucinations of the disease. Still, it seems a little on the nose that the voices in Adam’s head are literally played by three actors – a sweet, hippyish girl who tries to keep him upbeat (AnnaSophia Robb), a drunk stoner who is constantly giving him sexual advice (Devon Bostick) and a “bodyguard” (Lobo Sebastian) who saves him from real and imagined dangers. Then there is “Dark Adam” – the scariest of his inner monologues – is just played as an open door with blackness inside which speaks with a distorted horror movie voice.
Part of the problem is his hallucinations always look like SFX work. (And maybe that is what these hallucinations are like, I can’t claim to really know). Part of the problem is that everyone, but everyone, enables Adam. Yes, he needs help and supervision, but when he acts out, and he does often, no one ever holds him to account. He knows it and takes advantage of that fact.
I’m not even sure if there really can be a good movie made about schizophrenia. It is such an internal and specific condition that trying to portray it onscreen feels a little awkward. However, if they do figure out how to do it right, hopefully they will find a more likable and relatable hero to explore.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2020 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 17, 2020.