Blu-ray Review: Words on Bathroom Walls

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Don't mistake this teen-oriented drama for a rom-com, as Words on Bathroom Walls deals in very serious subject matter. Adapted from the novel by Julia Walton, the story explores a high school student's struggle with schizophrenia. We meet Adam (Charlie Plummer, All the Money in the World) as he describes his plight to an unseen therapist (who, in a rather daring move, remains unseen throughout). As we're allowed a glimpse into Adam's condition, the recurring "therapy" sessions become sort of a fourth-wall break. We're the audience and Adam directly speaks to us.

Bathroom Walls offers an involving, heartfelt character piece that perhaps soft-sells the true depth of issues facing schizophrenia-inflicted individuals. But as Adam develops a relationship with fellow student Maya (Taylor Russell, Escape Room), director Thor Freudenthal always maintains a respectful tone. Adam's parents are drawn with particular care, thanks not only to screenwriter Nick Naveda, but also the supporting cast. Molly Parker delivers a sensitive performance as Adam's mom Beth. Walton Goggins is no less nuanced as Paul, Beth's boyfriend. As a priest at Adam's exclusive Catholic school (for which he needed special permission to attend), Adam Garcia makes the most of his limited screen time.

The depictions of Adam's nightmarish psychotic breaks are effectively horrific. The manifestations of the imaginary people inside Adam's head are less so. AnnaSophia Robb plays hippy-dippy Rebecca, Lobo Sebastian is an imposing strong arm man, and Devon Bostick's Joaquin offers Adam all sorts of advice. All three, of course, spring from Adam's own mind, but they are treated here as fully formed "friends" with their own personalities. I cannot speak to the authenticity of how these hallucinations are presented (they sort of 'phase out' when Adam takes his meds), but in terms of their role in the story these characters are probably the least essential and at times downright distracting. As comic relief, which they appear to sometimes be utilized, they fail.

Words on Bathroom Walls isn't only focused on Adam's condition. He's an aspiring chef and that factors significantly into the story. In fact, the way his condition and career aspirations dovetail is one of the film's strongest points. Some of the teen romance stuff is a bit cliched, but when it's portrayed this effectively by likeable cast members it's easy to look right past the more predictable moments.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray is rather startlingly free of substantial bonus features. It's surprising there isn't even a PSA or some other information-based piece promoting mental illness awareness. Instead there's a photo gallery (really?) and the theatrical trailer.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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