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Yet again, Hollywood is here to educate us about mental health – but not with too much realism, because that would be a downer. This is a lively and sensitively acted YA drama about a teenager with schizophrenia from Diary of a Wimpy Kid director Thor Freudenthal, but it feels like a semi-copout.
Freudenthal clearly wants to say something deep and important about illness and stigma but at the same time appears to have cleared the shelves of sanitiser in Boots. After promising start, Words on Bathroom Walls turns into another prettified, picturesque portrait of mental illness. And surely even teenagers will feel as if they’ve seen the big-hugs happy ending here a hundred times already.
Charlie Plummer gives a nicely balanced performance as Adam, a cooking-obsessed kid in his senior year at high school who is diagnosed with schizophrenia after a psychotic episode in chemistry class. For months Adam has been hearing voices, represented on screen as a trio of characters. There’s incense-wafting hippy chick Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb), horny teenager Joaquin (Devon Bostick) and the Bodyguard (Lobo Sebastian), a baseball-bat-wielding thug who shows up if Adam is feeling emotionally vulnerable. When he is very unwell, he hallucinates a scary horror-movie voice: a sinister growl that tells him to do things that will hurt him and endanger others. Some might find these characters quirky or obvious, but the incessant noise in his head is effectively done.
The film is pretty good on stigma, too. At home, Adam’s stepdad Paul (Walton Goggins) hides the kitchen knives and tiptoes around. Friends won’t have anything to do with him. When he is transferred to a new school, Adam keeps his schizophrenia a secret, even from the girl he fancies, Maya (Taylor Russell). Here, the script disappointingly goes into full-on high-school movie mode, giving us the usual teenage milestones – first kiss, prom night, parent troubles – all with a contrived schizophrenia spin. It makes the film look shallow, which is a shame, because serious thought has gone into conveying how terrifying it must be for people like Adam living with the condition.
• Words on Bathroom Walls is in cinemas from 6 November.
• In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email email@example.com. You can contact the mental health charity Mind by calling 0300 123 3393 or visiting mind.org.uk.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Words on Bathroom Walls review – prettified portrait of mental illness | Drama films