WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Thor Freudenthal

Stars: Charlie Plummer, Taylor Russell, Molly Parker, Walton Goggins, Andy Garcia, Beth Grant, Devon Bostick, AnnaSophia Robb,  Lobo Sebastian.

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Based on the award winning 2017 YA novel written by Julia Walton, this teenage romance/coming of age tale deals with the serious issue of schizophrenia, and it doesn’t shy away from its difficult subject matter. The screenplay from Nick Naveda (Say You Will, etc) is intelligent and articulate, and illustrates the effect that schizophrenia can have on not only those who suffer from the affliction but also on friends and family.

Adam Petrizelli (played by Charlie Plummer) is a troubled kid who, in his final year of high school, is struck by a series of auditory and visual hallucinations. When he is responsible for a serious accident in a science class Adam is expelled from school, which puts in jeopardy his aim of attending culinary school and becoming a chef. With the support of his concerned but overly smothering mother Beth (Molly Parker) Adam gets some treatment from a psychiatrist and an experimental course of pills that help bring his condition under control.

Beth and her new boyfriend Paul (Walton Goggins) enrol Adam in St Agatha’s, a local Catholic school, so that he can finish his education. The headmistress is the formidable Sister Catherine (Beth Grant), who lays down some conditions for Adam’s continued attendance at the school. There he meets Maya (Taylor Russell, from Waves, etc), an intelligent and confident student and the school valedictorian, who becomes his tutor, and Adam begins to feel more optimistic about his future. But when he stops taking his pills, his mental state becomes more erratic and he threatens to undo all the progress he has made.

German born filmmaker Thor Freudenthal has done a great job in bringing the material to the screen with compassion and a clear vision. Freudenthal began his career as a special effects visual artists before turning to directing films like Hotel For Dogs, etc, and fittingly he employs a very cinematic device in depicting the various voices which Adam hears in his head – they are given physical manifestations so that we in the audience can see them There is the ephemeral beauty Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb, from Bridge To Terabithia, etc), the perpetually horny teenaged boy Joaquin (Devon Bostwick, from the Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series), and the cigar chewing baseball wielding bodyguard (Lobo Sebastian, from The Mule, etc) who gives vent to Adam’s anger and warns him of an oncoming attack. It also vividly depicts the black cloud of depression that sometimes grips Adam, accompanied by a dark menacing voice.

Freudenthal has worked with teenagers in most of his films and here he elicits strong performances from his central cast. Plummer has played troubled teens in a number of other films (from The Dinner through to the superb Lean On Pete and he recently played J Paul Getty’s kidnapped grandson in All The Money In The World), and he is superb here in a difficult role. He brings raw emotion and depth to his performance as Adam as he tries to navigate his way through his unusual situation. Adam also serves as the film’s narrator and he occasionally breaks the fourth wall, which gives us insights into his perspective.

Russell is sympathetic as Maya and she shares a genuine chemistry with Plummer, making their blossoming romance seem credible. Goggins, largely cast against type, is also solid in a more sympathetic role. However, it is Andy Garcia who leaves the strongest impression on the material with his performance as Father Patrick, an empathetic and nonjudgmental priest to whom Andy turns for advice and support. He brings a touch of gentle humour to his role and is a welcome presence despite having only a few scenes.

Even though Words On Bathroom Walls deals with a teenaged boy and his struggles with mental illness, the film also deals with some universal themes in a way that is honest, provocative and inherently cinematic and has broader appeal than many other YA tales. There is also a catchy techno-pop score from The Chainsmokers.

★★★☆

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