Words on Bathroom Walls REVIEW – YA Perfection

Words on Bathroom Walls is a strong addition to the YA genre, and is a film that does justice to its source material.

Words on Bathroom Walls
Words on Bathroom Walls

There is a special place in my heart for the coming of age film, otherwise known as films that explore what it means to be a young adult. For the longest time, The Perks of Being A Wallflower has been my top film in this genre, and I consider both the book and film to be absolute perfection in capturing the volatility and vulnerability of being young. Words on Bathroom Walls doesn’t manage to knock Perks off its throne, but it definitely gets very close, and is definitely on my list for top films of 2020.

Words on Bathroom Walls is an adaptation of a novel, similarly titled, by Julia Walton. At the beginning, our protagonist Adam (Charlie Plummer), for the most part, is a fairly well-adjusted teen. His dad abandoned him and his mom (Molly Parker), and while they adapt to a life without him, Adam finds himself cooking more and through these culinary explorations, discovers his passion for food. So here we have a teen who has a clear idea of what he wants to do with his life, with his passion steering him forward, until he discovers that he has schizophrenia, and the forward momentum vanishes.

Plummer does such a good job at fleshing out Adam’s reaction to the hallucinations, which are a part of his condition. With visions of this magnitude, it is easy to overact and overdo, but Plummer is so authentic. The effects are also stylised in a very effective way, allowing us to have some insight of Adam’s interior world. Most of us would know what the condition entails, but this hardly prepares us for the exhausting reality of schizophrenia. For Adam, he has to deal with the stigma as well, where you are either feared or made fun of – the isolation is overwhelming.

The medication for schizophrenia isn’t a certainty, and Adam seems to be resistant to the usual ones. His mom, however, isn’t willing to give up, ploughing on zealously, and Adam finds himself in countless doctors’ offices, while she searches the internet for any scrape of hope that can allow her son to lead a normal life.

The film cleverly crafts a space for Adam to be the narrator, mimicking the journal entry style of the novel, by having his talks with the therapist be a way for us to understand what’s going through his head. These moments are raw and unfiltered, where Adam doesn’t feel the need to censor himself or put up a front like he does with his mom and everyone else. His condition becomes a shameful secret, as well as a seemingly insurmountable obstacle when he finds himself falling for Maya (Taylor Russell).

Maya is fiercely smart and motivated, but she too has secrets of her own. Oftentimes, these young love stories are rushed and underdeveloped, and all we as an audience get are two beautiful people who suddenly fall in love. Words on Bathroom Walls takes its time with this two – unhurried conversations, movie dates (bonus points for fantastic movie choice), food excursions; I see them falling in love before they actually do.

However, even though Maya trusts Adam with her vulnerabilities, he can’t tell her about his, and his schizophrenia becomes this looming thing that overshadows everything. There is no romanticisation here, no sense of love conquers everything. Alienation is a very real consequence to having schizophrenia, where Adam starts listening to the voices in his head more than the voices of the people he loves.

There is also a fantastic turn from Andy Garcia, who plays a priest that Adam finds himself regularly confessing too. There is such humour in their interactions, since sometimes Adams says things to wind him up, but such empathy as well. This is the main message of the film, to have a little more kindness in our interactions with others, to seek to understand, instead of judge and condemn. Adam is able to see past the ugly words on bathroom walls – words that tell him he’s nothing, that seek to ridicule and diminish – because the people who care for him help him see a different side to him, the parts that are strong and worthy of love.

Oh yes, and The Chainsmokers scored this, which is an interesting choice that totally complemented the young adult vibes of the film. As you can see, there is much to love about this film – go watch it so you can love it too.

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Words on Bathroom Walls
There is so much to love about this film: the authentic depiction of a mental illness like schizophrenia, the romantic elements so perfectly balanced with the coming-of-age themes, the likability and chemistry of the leads...the list goes on.