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"WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS"
(2020) (Charlie Plummer, Taylor Russell) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A high school student must not only contend with his schizophrenia and its various manifestations, but also falling for his classmate tutor.
PLOT:

Adam Petrazelli (CHARLIE PLUMMER) is a high school student who suffers from schizophrenia. For him, that not only manifests itself in the form of a demonic, disembodied voice that instills self-doubt, but also a trio of characters only Adam can see and hear. Those are the empathetic Rebecca (ANNASOPHIA ROBB), the ribald playboy Joaquin (DEVON BOSTICK), and an unnamed, tough-man Bodyguard (LOBO SEBASTIAN) who, along with his similar baseball bat-wielding cronies, is always prepared to take violent measures to protect Adam.

After yet another troubling incident at school, Adam's mom, Beth (MOLLY PARKER), and her live-in boyfriend, Paul (WALTON GOGGINS), transfer the teen to a Catholic school run by Sister Catherine (BETH GRANT) where Father Patrick (ANDY GARCIA) presides over services and acts as the de facto guidance counselor. Seemingly not needing his help is star student Maya Arnez (TAYLOR RUSSELL) who Adam soon learns accepts cash payment under the table to help some of her classmates. While she typically doesn't tutor others, she makes an exception for Adam in whom she sees something of a kindred spirit.

As their school arrangement turns into friendship and then romance and as he hopes to graduate to attend culinary school, Adam must contend with his illness and the side effects of the medication he takes for it.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10

While it appears a growing number of people have no problem nowadays saying exactly what they think without any sort of filters, most sane folks still operate mostly inside their own heads. When depicted in films, of course, the former group is far more dramatically interesting than the latter in that "what you see is what you get." As compared to novels that usually operate inside characters' heads, it's far more difficult in the visual storytelling medium of movies to depict that.

That's especially true when it comes to mental illness. Yes, we've seen plenty of films that show the external manifestation of people coping with such problems, but those that depict the inner workings -- whether done accurately or artistically -- are few and far in between simply because it's not easy to pull off.

I'm happy to report that "Words on Bathroom Walls" -- the movie adaptation of Julia Walton's novel of the same name that I have not read -- seems to get it right. To be transparent, I don't know anyone who is or was schizophrenic, so I can't attest to the film's accuracy in depicting the illness in a realistic sense.

When looked at from a symbolic standpoint, however, this offering from screenwriter Nick Naveda and director Thor Freudenthal ("Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," "Diary of a Wimpy Kid") feels spot on. With Charlie Plummer playing the protagonist, Adam Petrazelli, we see the messed up inner workings of his mind portrayed visually and through a disembodied, demonic-sounding voice and a trio of imagined characters.

They are the sweet and empathetic Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb); the ribald, open-robed, boxer wearing playboy Joaquin (Devon Bostick); and the never named, baseball bat-wielding bodyguard (Lobo Sebastian) who's ready to, well, go to bat, so to speak, for Adam should he need that sort of physical assistance.

As in real-life, Adam's affliction hasn't gone over well at his high school and his mom (Molly Parker) and her live-in boyfriend (Walton Goggins) have accordingly moved him over to a Catholic school in hopes that the change of scenery -- along with a new form of medication -- might be just what the literal and figurative doctor ordered.

His desire to attend culinary school catches the interest of one of his new classmates and the school's star pupil, Maya (Taylor Russell), who ends up agreeing to be his tutor to help him graduate. She recognizes but doesn't mind that something seems off about him, and he doesn't divulge his troubling secret lest that scare her away.

The new school, new medication and new friend trifecta help him blossom -- as does a budding romance between the teens -- but since this is a movie in need of dramatic tension, it's not difficult to predict that things won't flow happily ever after for the rest of the film's running time.

None of which detracts from the offering in the slightest that grew on me from the get-go thanks to smart writing, creative direction, and wonderful performances from all involved (including Andy Garcia as the school's priest and de facto guidance counselor to Adam). In fact, it all works so perfectly that a minor third act revelation -- that I won't spoil -- actually had me let out an involuntary guttural gasp from being so emotionally vested in the characters and their story.

I'll admit I'm a sucker for stories where people step up to help those who are troubled, so perhaps the offering affected me more than it might others. Regardless, thanks to all of that and its creative but honest and heartfelt visual portrayal of a hideous, internal illness, what I wanted to write on a bathroom wall after seeing it is "Go see 'Words on Bathroom Walls' -- you're going to love it." I did and thus award the film a 8 out of 10 score.




Reviewed August 7, 2020 / Posted August 21, 2020


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