Words on Bathroom Walls (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): His little mental secret

“Words on Bathroom Walls” is another typical coming-of-age drama about a troubled adolescent romance, but it is more thoughtful and sincere than expected. While it handles its story and characters well with considerable care and attention, the movie does not pull punches in case of depicting the dark and disturbing aspects of its hero’s serious psychological condition, and it surely earns its touching ending thanks to its sensitive storytelling as well as the engaging performances from its main cast members.

Charlie Plummer, a promising newcomer who has been more prominent during last several years thanks to his good performances in a number of notable films including “All the Money in the World” (2017) and “Lean on Pete” (2017), plays Adam Petrazelli, a teenage boy who has a long history of schizophrenia behind his socially awkward appearance. For last several years, Adam has managed to keep his mental illness under his control while actively pursuing his aspiration of being a first-class restaurant chef someday, but, alas, there eventually comes a point when his mental illness causes a big trouble in his high school, and he subsequently goes through a series of medications while his mother tries to find any other school which may have him until his upcoming graduation.

In the end, Adam is accepted by a Catholic high school located a bit far from his home, and he is fine with that. As long as he keeps his dark secret behind his back for next several months, everything may turn out to be well for him as well as his mother and her current boyfriend and then he will probably move onto some prestigious culinary school as he has always wanted. In addition, it seems that a new type of drug for schizophrenia is more effective than expected, though his life becomes a bit more boring than before due to the consequence disappearance of three colorful imaginary figures not so far from the similar ones in “A Beautiful Mind” (2001).

When he is having a little private interview with the school principal, Adam happens to have a sort of Meet Cute moment with someone in an empty bathroom in the school building. That person in question is a Latino female student named Maya Arnez (Taylor Russell), and her first encounter with Adam is pretty strained as he happens to witness what Maya has been doing behind her supposedly exemplary appearance. Although she is a top-notch senior student expected to be the valedictorian at the upcoming graduation ceremony, she has often earned some money from taking care of the homeworks of some rich kids in the school, and Adam becomes more attracted toward to her as getting to know her bit by bit during next several following days.

Because he has been in the serious need of improving his test scroes, Adam requests some help from Maya, and she does not mind that at all because, well, she is also attracted to him while quite curious about him. Although he still does not tell her anything about his mental illness, she is willing to spend more time with him, and her presence seems to help him as much as his current medication.

Of course, things later become less rosy for Adam as his mind and body experience the side effects of his new medication, and the screenplay by Nick Naveda, which is based on the novel of the same name by Julia Walton, later goes through several intense moments of emotional upheavals along with its hero. While feeling more conflicted about hiding his mental illness from Maya, Adam also comes to clash a lot with his mother, and there is a painful scene where he and his mother face old anger and resentment accumulated between them for many years. Although he has always been a dear son to her, Adam’s mother has her own exasperation and frustration as coping with his schizophrenia everyday, and even her current boyfriend, who turns out to be more decent and compassionate than he seems at first, cannot help her that much no matter how much he sincerely tries.

As he often cannot help himself, Adam can be quite rude and hurtful to others around him, but the movie never loses its empathy on its hero, and Plummer steadily holds our attention even when his character is driven to some extreme moments later in the film. Wisely avoiding exaggerating his character’s mental problem, Plummer ably conveys to us his character’s constant inner struggle along the story, and we come to accept and understand his character’s inherent flaws more besides rooting for him more.

Plummer is also surrounded by a number of fine performers, who hold each own place well around him. While Talyor Russell has a good chemistry with Plummer whenever they share the screen together, Molly Parker and Walton Goggins are also solid as Adam’s concerned mother and her boyfriend, and Andy García has several small but enjoyable moments as the no-nonsense priest in the school.

Directed by Thor Freudenthal, “Words on Bathroom Walls” is a fairly entertaining product which is also poignant for its genuine emotional moments, and I was particularly touched by how its obligatory feel-good finale sidesteps clichés and, along with Adam and others around him, recognizes what he will probably have to live with for the rest of his life. Yes, there may be more struggles for him in the future, but he is less afraid and uncertain than before, and that is a progress for him, isn’t it?

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