Linda Cook review: Smart ‘Words on Bathroom Walls’ speaks to more than teens

Movies

★★★☆

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A tasteful and surprisingly funny story about a teen’s struggle with mental illness, “Words on Bathroom Walls” will appeal to viewers far older than the film’s demographic.

We see what Adam (Charlie Plummer, “Lean on Pete,”) the main character, sees. We understand his fears, his hopes and his torments in this endearing film based on the popular young-adult novel by Julia Walton.

Adam and Maya (Taylor Russell, “Waves”) meet sorta cute when Adam becomes a student at a private school.

The Catholic school accepts him, but only on certain conditions. Adam is schizophrenic, and comes to the new school after a violent incident at a former high school.

When they meet, Maya is standing in a bathroom talking with another student. She has an initiative, shall we say, in which she does homework for other students.

Maya’s smart, she’s pretty, and Adam quickly develops a fondness for her, especially after she agrees to come to his house to tutor him.

Adam’s home isn’t in turmoil, but it isn’t exactly stable. His mother and her boyfriend (an excellent Walton Goggins, television’s “The Shield”) try to cope with Adam’s often erratic behavior as best they can.

The story is told cleverly by Adam in a voiceover in which he talks directly to an unseen psychiatrist.

Adam longs to graduate from high school so he can pursue his dream of attending culinary school. But his hallucinations, which involve a team of characters we also get to know, often prevent him from focusing on conversations and seeing his surroundings as reality.

The performers all are adept and give their characters charm and likeability. Andy Garcia is marvelous as an earnest, wise priest who truly likes and encourages the troubled Adam.

This is a smart film about a real-life situation so many people — teens or not — face every day.
It’s an enlightening perspective on mental illness and youth that might give viewers some new points of view.

3 out of 4 stars
Running time: 110 minutes.
Rated: PG-13 for foul language and violence

Linda Cook is a film critic and reporter, first at the Quad-City Times from 1985-2020 and now Local 4 News WHBF and OurQuadCities.com. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists and St. Mark Lutheran Church. You can find a summary of and links to her past movie reviews here and at Rotten Tomatoes.

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