4 out of 5 stars
Mental health is one of those topics that modern society is willing to consider, but few people are comfortable discussing it openly. There have been many films that engage with the various aspects of this complex topic with varying levels of success. The challenges manifest themselves because of the different ways that these conditions impact other people’s lives. Julia Walton has managed to envision the world of those who experience schizophrenia in her novel and how this illness influences everyone's lives around those who experience it first hand.
In Words on Bathroom Walls, we see how this imbalance of the mind permeates and affects the world of teenager Adam Petrizelli (Charlie Plummer). As he heads into his final year of high school and looks ahead to attending culinary school, the aspiring chef begins to hear voices in his head. Individual words eventually turn into visual manifestations that speak into his life, even though those around him cannot hear or see them. Some of these visions are helpful and positive. In contrast, others provide him with a certain level of protection during threatening times. Yet, it is the dark cloud of chaos that causes him the most harm and eventually causes Adam to react to these visions and allows others to be aware of his schizophrenic condition. It forces him to begin at a new school and participate in an experimental drug trial that may help him live a ‘normal’ life.
Things at St. Agatha’s Catholic School do not seem much better until he comes in contact with the school’s valedictorian, Maya Arnaz (Taylor Russell). As she tries to uncover this mysterious new student's details, the industrious and smart young woman becomes his maths tutor. A connection that leads to a burgeoning relationship, but both students seem to be hiding something from one another. Adam tries to manage his new surroundings, his feelings for Maya, and contend with his daily pill intake's side effects. A combination that makes him need to decide whether he will be honest with his beautiful tutor.
Words on Bathroom Walls could be easily dismissed as a typical teen drama that wrestles with the subject matter of mental health. Despite some familiar elements from this genre, there is something in this film that may pleasantly surprise audiences. Specifically, it provides a glimpse into a relevant topic in a manner that is accessible to a wider audience and manages to do it entertainingly.
On the same level as The Fault in My Stars and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Thor Freudenthal’s (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) film manages to treat teens as burgeoning adults as opposed to adolescents in mature bodies. He takes the script and allows Charlie Plummer and Taylor Russell to portray high school's angst while contending with real-world issues. This means that these two young actors manage to deliver some of the most compelling performances within this genre in years. Their youth does not diminish their ability to carry this project through until the unpredictable conclusion.
What adds to these well written central characters in Nick Naveda’s screenplay are the layers of supporting cast members that help to unpack this condition's nuances. AnnaSpohia Robb, Devon Bostick and Lobo Sebastian deliver the needed emotions and support of his visual manifestations and allow for a glimpse into the mind of a teen with schizophrenia. While Molly Parker and Walton Goggins play the roles of Adam’s family with conviction and Andy Garcia’s portrayal of Father Patrick gives this film the spiritual depth needed. His character manages to provide a Christian influence that is not forced and humanises the value of Biblical counselling.
Admittedly, this movie proved to be a pleasant and rewarding surprise. Offering teens and their parents the opportunity to engage with a real topic that impacts our modern culture while still entertaining audiences with a well written and performed story that should be on people’s watch list during this season.
REEL DIALOGUE: Why is there such a stigma with mental health?
Even with modern advancements and education, people still have a hard time knowing how to respond to the topic of mental illness. It is not new to society, throughout the Bible there are references to individuals that struggle with these internal challenges. Words on Bathroom Walls even provides biblical answers to some of the issues that people face.
The realities portrayed in the Bible help to show that the answers can be found in the words of Jesus. God can help through the journey and know that it is better to seek help than to struggle alone.
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7
Who to contact if you need help? Beyond Blue or Wesley Mission