There have been some amazing films made about mental illness over the years. Films like Girl, Interrupted and Rain Man have managed to be both entertaining films while exploring mental illness in such a way that they also educated the people watching the film. Now another film joins that list, Words On Bathroom Walls, but this is also a film with a difference because director Thor Freudenthal (Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters) finds creative ways to reveal how a teenager with schizophrenia sees the world.
The teenager at hand is Adam (Charlie Plummer – Lean On Pete) who lived a pretty regular life with his mother (Molly Parker – The Wicker Man), then all of a sudden everything changed. First his mother began dating Paul (Walton Goggins – The Shield) and then after a violent episode at his High School Adam suddenly finds himself diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Now his constant companions are the rude and obnoxious Joaquin (Devon Bostick – The 100), the violent Bodyguard (Lobo Sebastian – The Longest Yard) who seemingly wants to protect Adam whenever he feels threatened and the free-spirited Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb – The Way Way Back) who surprisingly seems to be full of good ideas.
That’s when the pressure really hits Adam. Suddenly he is at a new school on a strict probation and although he quickly makes friends with Maya (Taylor Russell – Waves) he finds that he can’t tell her about his schizophrenia. Now he has to try and find a way to keep his life together while undertaking a medical trial while the only person he can be honest with is Father Patrick (Andy Garcia – Ocean’s Eleven).
What sets Words On Bathroom Walls apart from most other movies about mental illness is the fact that the film is not simply just ABOUT a character with schizophrenia it is a film written and viewed FROM the perspective of the person with the mental illness. The result is purely unbelievable. The genius of the idea best comes to the screen when Adam is being interviewed by the Head Nun at his new High School while in Adam’s mind the office around them is on fire. The way the scene is handled by Thor Freudenthal is absolutely amazing – visually it is spectacular and for once the audience gets to see how the world through the eyes of someone with schizophrenia… I know for me that visual with stay with me for a long time.
One of the amazing things about this film is that while at its very heart Nick Naveda’s (Say You Will) screenplay is a teenage romance the film goes a lot deeper than that. It has the visual presence of a film like Fight Club while the full rounded characterisation of the characters gives the feel a realism that so few teenage films have.
Those well-rounded characters also give the cast a chance to shine. As many of us who had already seen Looking For Alaska and Lean On Pete knew Charlie Plummer is the future Leonardo DiCaprio. He is amazing actor who just gets stronger and stronger with every performance, but it is easy to see that he has already captured the art of method acting brilliantly well. Here his performance is very reminiscent of the work of a young DiCaprio in The Basketball Diaries.
Plummer is also well supported by Taylor Russell who also put in a hopefully award-winning performance in Waves earlier this year. Walton Goggins also relishes the fact that he gets to play one of the film’s most interesting characters while Andy Garcia is a real stand-out as Father Patrick… one of the more conventional priests to hit the big screen over the past few years.
Words On Bathroom Walls is one of the surprise films of 2020. I went into this expecting just an ordinary teenage drama and came out of firmly believing that I had just seen one of the films of the year. An amazing film that gives the world an insight that they would not normally have while also revealing that there is more to Thor Freudenthal as a director that we may have previously thought.