words on the bathroom floor
director: Thor Freudenthal (percy jackson: sea of monsters)
starring: charlie plummer, taylor russell, molly parker and andy garcia
REVIEWER: lyall carter
Diagnosed with a mental illness halfway through his senior year of high school, a witty, introspective teen struggles to keep it a secret while falling in love with a brilliant classmate who inspires him to not be defined by his condition.
When I saw the trailer for Words on the Bathroom Walls I thought here we go, another teen angst, romance film. But I wasn’t expecting this. While having all the teen romance you want from a film like this, Words on the Bathroom Walls is a powerful, well acted and incisive film about the challenges of mental health that demands to be seen.
The story of witty and introspective Adam (Charlie Plummer), who appears to be your typical young adult - a little unkempt with raging hormones and excited about a future pursuing his dream of becoming a chef. Expelled halfway through his senior year following an incident in chemistry class, Adam is diagnosed with a mental illness.
Sent to a Catholic academy to finish out his term, Adam has little hope of fitting in and just wants to keep his illness secret until he can enrol in culinary school. But when he meets outspoken and fiercely intelligent Maya (Taylor Russell), there is an instant soulful and comforting connection. As their romance deepens, she inspires him to open his heart and not be defined by his condition. Now, with the love and support of his girlfriend and family, Adam is hopeful for the very first time that he can see the light and triumph over the challenges that lie ahead.
Throughout the history of cinema the display of mental health in films have been varied from exploitative to demeaning and everything in between. Words on the Bathroom Walls doesn’t use mental health in an exploitative way, as a point of difference, nor does it demean Adam’s character either.
It feels completely honest in its portrayal of the illness, Adam’s challenges with it and his family and peers reaction to it. It's quite possibly one of the best films to address mental health out there. It doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff; the sense that mental health sufferers feel in that they feel like a pariah with others and society because of their mental health challenges, the lack of understanding and help that someone with mental health faces and the challenge to their friends and family.
This is not only helped by the structure and honesty of the narrative, but also the acting. It's a great ensemble cast that quite obviously ‘get’ mental health and are sensitive in their approach to their characters especially Charlie Plummer as Adam. Andy Garcia is quietly brilliant as Father Patrick (it’s nice to see a religious figure presented in a good light for once) and one of Walton Goggins final scenes as Adam’s step father Paul pulls at every heart string.
Words on the Bathroom Walls is a powerful, well acted and incisive film about the challenges of mental health that demands to be seen.