In Brief: The story of a teenager battling schizophrenia is packed with great acting but not-even-close to believable story does it in.
Unlike most of the movies being released these days, Words on Bathroom Walls isn’t streaming. It’s actually opening in theaters. None in Portland but it can be seen in some surrounding areas.
Words on Bathroom Walls is a semi-light telling of the life of a high school kid suffering from schizophrenia. It’s based on Julia Walton’s novel. The definition of semi-light comes from how director Thor and writer Nick Naveda tell Adam’s story.
Adam is the disorder’s victim.
He is played by Charlie Plummer who wowed art house addicts with his work as J. Paul Getty’s grandson in All the Money in the World and the coming of age flick Lean on Pete. Both are great films that show off Plummer’s exceptional, and still budding, talent.
Since this, too, doubles as a coming-of-age flick, Plummer will end up being discovered by a wider-range of film fans. In this case that would be teens. The film is also his best role and best acting to date. More on that in a sec.
Adam’s main defender is his mom. With near herculean efforts, she discovers and then pushes this drug or that on her son in an effort to give him some sort of a normal life. It doesn’t work all that well. Eventually the drugs either fail or he stops taking them. If you know anything about the malady, both almost automatically lead to disaster.
Like many schizophrenics, Adam hears voices. In his case the voices are shown as three people. They’re done by AnnaSophia Robb (Race to Witch Mountain, The Way, Way Back), Lobo Sebastian and Devon Bostick. The voices aren’t exactly rational and sometimes lead Adam into situations with devastating consequences.
An episode of hallucinations in a chemistry class gets the kid kicked out of school. So it’s off to Catholic school and one last shot at graduating.
The boy is a heck of a cook and dreams of someday being a chef. It’s a very real possibility as long as he’s not on this drug or that. Catholic school is where he meets Maya. She’s incredibly bright, he’s very bright and Adam is instantly smitten. They connect and that also turns “Words on Bathroom Walls” into a teenage love story. And it’s a good one.
Most of the time.
Plummer narrates much of the movie. His sometimes self-deprecating narrative explains his condition and is often packed with laughs. Plummer makes you feel sorry for Adam but not too sorry. Adam is done as someone who matter-of-factly accepts his condition and in no way tries to make himself a victim.
He’s also desperately in love with Maya but can’t tell her — or anyone — of his condition.
Plummer bounces perfectly off of Taylor Russell’s (TV’s Lost in Space) Maya. Like Adam, she, too, has secrets. Russell — like Plummer — is a young actress with huge potential. Words on Bathroom Walls doesn’t give her much room to stretch but you do notice that she has a ton of talent and a bright future.
I watched Words on Bathroom Walls with a psychologist. Not good for me. She found Freudenthal and Naveda’s interpretation of schizophrenia interesting but unrealistic. In real life the voices heard by a schizophrenic aren’t from imaginary people. They’re almost always disembodied voices offering vague mutterings that are usually derogatory.
Sometimes dangerously so.
Equally hard to buy in the last third of the movie is the meltdown because Adam quits taking the drug that makes him — for lack of a better word — more normal. It’s not that the meltdown isn’t predictable, it’s how everything shakes out after.
This — and the happy-sappy, feel good climax — is not even close to believable.
It ruins the movie and ends up ruining some terrific acting and a really fun piece of work from Andy Garcia who plays a priest. His chemistry with Plummer is a high point in a movie packed with them.
Unfortunately, believability isn’t one of those high points.
Directors: Thor Freudenthal
Stars: Charlie Plummer, Taylor Russell, Andy Garcia, Molly Parker, Walter Goggins, AnnaSophia Robb, Lobo Sebastian, Devon Bostick
Words on Bathroom Walls, in a word or two, is a charming coming of age story about a teenage boy who is schizophrenic. Lots of positives in a pretty predictable story. Give this a 3 1/2 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
You can find Words on Bathroom Walls at these theaters and I am told it will be released in more theaters soon.
Astoria Gateway Cinemas 7
Independence Cinema 8
Scappoose Cinemas 7
Riverside Cinema 10
Midway Cinema 10
Martin Village Stadium 16
Century Capital Mall 14
Bonner Mall Cinema 6
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.