Words on Bathroom Walls

What is a typical teenage film is not rendered something more of substance if you simply add an “issue”. This does not automatically result in quality or watchability. Here all involved work hard to make sure this film does not come off as a cheesy movie of the week (from back in the day) but one that will entertain teens as well as make them think about an issue.

Said issue is mental health. Or more specifically schizophrenia. Besides all the usual concerns associated with that diagnosis, it is even more problematic for a teenager. During our teen years we are forging our identities. We just want to fit in. Fit in with people and find friends to help us navigate these turbulent, hormone filled years. So when Adam (Charlie Plummer – Looking for Alaska, Lean on Pete) is diagnosed with schizophrenia half way through his senior year in high school it puts a lot of pressure on him and his single parent mom, Beth (Molly Parker – from television’s House of Cards).

Adam manages to hide it from everyone at school until an incident occurs in his Chemistry class. As a result Adam is expelled from school putting in jeopardy his hopes of going to cooking school after graduation. Further stress is brought into the picture when Beth’s new boyfriend, Paul (Walton Goggins – from television’s The Unicorn), moves in and he and Adam don’t exactly get along.

His ship seems to right itself when he gets into a Catholic school which would allow Adam to graduate on time. All he has to do is maintain a certain grade point average and keep to his treatment plan. To help him with the first he gets the smartest girl in the school, Maya (Taylor Russell – Escape Room, Waves), to tutor him.

The more time he spends with Maya the more Adam likes her. They talk a lot but both are keeping secrets from each other. As the new medication he is on doesn’t allow him to taste food properly, Adam stops taking it. Without telling anyone. Keeping his secret is going to be harder as the voices and hallucinations increase. Adam now feels he has nowhere to turn for help. His world is about to come crashing down on him.

Based on a book by Julia Walter, the film is a notch above due to some cool visuals, decisions made by director Thor Freudenthal (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters) and the strong performances by the young leads and their older supporting cast.

Freudenthal makes the very cool decision to not only have the viewer hear the voices in Adam’s head but also see them. We get physical versions of the three voices in his head – bodyguard, young female hippie and horny teenage boy. Adds a whole dimension to that. Makes it “real” for us too. Plus there are visuals for Adam’s hallucinations. With the worst of them being illustrated as black fog which covers everything around him. Really allows you to semi-experience what goes on in Adam’s mind and how oppressive the hallucinations and voices are.

Loved that the two young lead characters looked like typical teens. Not perfect creatures. The depth which Charlie Plummer instills in Adam is commendable. Really allows you into Adam’s headspace. His performance will hopefully open up the much needed conversations about mental health and teenagers.