Told through protagonist Adam’s poignant and honest thoughts, Words On Bathroom Walls is an exploration of mental illness. Schizophrenic experiences in a young person is rarely depicted in contemporary film and is a successfully refreshing yet distressing take on a teenage drama.
Adam, played by Charlie Plummer, struggles with balancing relationships during his adolescence, while having debilitating symptoms of Schizophrenia. Director, Thor Freudenthal depicts this intriguing storyline through Adams eyes and the unfiltered discussions he has with his psychiatrist. By breaking the fourth wall and cutting to scenes in Adam’s quiet therapy room, he looks at the audience as if we are his psychiatrist. Through Freudenthal’s immersive directing techniques and Plummer’s heartbreakingly confronting character portrayal, these mental illness struggles become all-consuming and audiences understand how difficult it would be to live with Schizophrenia.
Turbulent relationships, hostile and narrow-minded education organisations, faith and drug use are all touched on in the film. Adam learns to confide in his love interest Maya (Taylor Russell). He struggles with finding new people to include in his support network, like his stepdad Paul (Walton Goggins) and a forward-thinking, humorous and non-judgemental Father Patrick, played by the charismatic Andy Garcia.
Through Adam, we see how the perpetuating and damaging cycle of withdrawal and dependency on experimental medication unravels. His mental illness symptoms seem to exacerbate through these drug side-effects, affecting his quality of life. This is explored through tilted camera angles, blurred lenses and horror-style shadow voices, appearing when Adam is feeling unstable. His three imaginary companions are also interesting secondary characters played by Anna Sophia Robb, Devon Bostick and Lobo Sebastian.
Disregarding the few teenage drama clichés and the rose-coloured ending, Words On Bathroom Walls shows the gritty repercussions of mental illness. This film highlights the timeless idea that needs to be continually addressed – the stigma and compounding damage attached to having a mental illness. As repeated in the film by Adam and his mother, played by Molly Parker, a person is “not the illness itself”, just someone dealing with what they have.
Movie Review By Zara Zampaglione