Review: “Words on Bathroom Walls” challenges the stigmas of mental illness


Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Released Aug. 21, 2020, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” director Thor Freudenthal’s latest coming of age drama “Words on Bathroom Walls” covers the story of high school senior Adam. It follows him as he copes with his recent diagnosis of schizophrenia while taking on the everyday struggles of being a teenager. Produced by Roadside Attractions, the film is based on author Julia Walton’s novel of the same name.

Charlie Plummer plays Adam, who is accompanied by hallucinations that take the form of three individuals: “new age hippie” Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb), his best friend Joaquin (Devon Bostick) and “the Bodyguard” (Lobo Sebastian). Adam’s various types of visions are visible to audience members through some impressive animation, depicting what takes place inside his mind.

After being forced to leave his high school because of an incident, Adam transfers to a private one, on one condition — he enters a medical trial. While this seems like a positive opportunity, it comes with taking medication that has some less-than-ideal side effects.

The film’s portrayal of Adam’s schizophrenia is done in a creative, insightful way that avoids both romanticizing and demonizing mental illness. This is a line that is often crossed in narratives focusing on such a personal subject, but “Words on Bathroom Walls” highlights the reality of mental illness without giving into any stigma. It also gives insight into the mind of someone struggling with an illness that is commonly misunderstood.

Plummer’s skills on camera are undoubtedly a grand factor in how explicitly raw the story comes across. It is clear to anyone who watches just how difficult the life of someone with schizophrenia can be, and to portray this without suffering from it personally takes a level of expertise only few can master. Viewers are taken through Adam’s day-to-day ups and downs in a way that feels far from fictional.

On top of this, the movie’s plot is an enjoyable one. Sprinkled with comedy and romance, the story of a teenage boy finding his way is one sure to be relatable to all. While Adam’s struggle with schizophrenia might not be understood by many, his questions about self-worth, identity and love are likely to be.

“Words on Bathroom Walls” is a refreshing, real look into the truth of mental illness in a world that so often diminishes it as less than it is. The narrative is empathetic and entertaining at the same time, telling a touching story destined to resonate with anyone who comes across it.

Click here to stream “Words on Bathroom Walls” on Prime Video.

Illustration by Ariel Landry