Mental illness is a hard topic to portray in films and TV, but we are getting better and better at. The only thing I give '13 Reasons Why' credit for - and I seriously mean only - is giving mental health the spotlight and starting the conversation to somewhat normalise mental health issues. In the years since, we have more and more authentic portrayals of mental illness, including confronting past traumas in 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' or depression in 'Tully'.
Adam (Charlie Plummer, 'All the Money in the World', 'Spontaneous') is a teenager who has always been a bit antisocial, but over the years has turned to cooking to ease the nerves. After an episode in class, he is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Dealing with his new diagnosis, he also has to change schools - where he meets Maya (Taylor Russell, 'Escape Room', 'Waves'), the soon-to-be school valedictorian who helps Adam with his studies. He also is on a new trial drug for schizophrenia which has many side effects.
'Words on Bathroom Walls' takes the 'Love, Simon' approach to make the film digestible to a modern audience. It relies on clichés of the teen romance genre to suck the audience in, while still feeling fresh and informative.
I don't know much about schizophrenia, but it's clear the film is desensitised in many aspects. Still, this isn't 'Me Before You', and feels respectable and accepting of the illness. The movie is always in Adam's perspective, so you feel every emotion he does. As the film puts it: cancer kids get Make-A-Wish before they die and people at their side every step of the way, people with schizophrenia get alienated and end up on the street wishing they were dead.
'Words on Bathroom Walls' also has some phenomenal performances, led by the groundbreaking Charlie Plummer - who between this and his other 2020 film, 'Spontaneous', is a new young actor set to shake up the scene. He is truly captivating. His love interest Maya, portrayed by Taylor Russell, is also a knockout. An unexpected appearance from Andy Garcia ('Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again', 'Book Club') is always delight, but some of the best comedic moments came for Adam's voices - his bodyguard defender portrayed by Lobo Sebastian ('The Mule'), Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb, 'Bridge to Terabithia', 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'), a free-spirited hippie girl who embodies Adam's heart, and lastly Joaquin, portrayed by Mr Rodrick himself, Devon Bostick ('Diary of a Wimpy Kid', 'Okja'), who attacks as Adam's "dude" side, always talking about girls and sex.
'Words on Bathroom Walls' also has some phenomenal performances, led by the groundbreaking Charlie Plummer - who between this and his other 2020 film, 'Spontaneous', is a new young actor set to shake up the scene. He is truly captivating.
I also loved the meaning behind the title: what is the thing they will write about you on the bathroom walls? Having a mental illness does not define your personality, nor allow others to judge you. We are all built differently, and just because you have something outside of what society conceives as "normal" does not make you just that one thing; we are all made up of many parts.
'Words on Bathroom Walls' succeeds by leaning on teen romance tropes to make schizophrenia a digestible topic, thanks to its fantastic cast and engaging narrative. While it's not to be viewed as the defining film on the topic, it's a great jumping-off point to launch a conversation, while being another great teen film about being okay to be different.