Directed By Thor Freudenthal
Starring – Charlie Plumer, Taylor Russell, AnnaSophia Robb
The Plot – The story of witty and introspective Adam (Plummer), who appears to be your typical young adult – a little unkempt with raging hormones and excited about a future pursuing his dream of becoming a chef. Expelled halfway through his senior year following an incident in chemistry class, Adam is diagnosed with a mental illness. Sent to a Catholic academy to finish out his term, Adam has little hope of fitting in and just wants to keep his illness secret until he can enroll in culinary school. But when he meets outspoken and fiercely intelligent Maya (Russell), there is an instant soulful and comforting connection. As their romance deepens, she inspires him to open his heart and not be defined by his condition. Now, with the love and support of his girlfriend and family, Adam is hopeful for the very first time that he can see the light and triumph over the challenges that lie ahead.
PG-13 for mature thematic content involving mental illness, some sexual references, strong adult language and smoking
– Revealing look. Aside from this being a solid teenager movie, complete with a richly vibrant personality and colorful characters, the film subverts expectations by also preserving itself as commentary on the state of schizophrenia, and the many people the illness pulls down with it. Throughout a barrage of intentionally over-emphasized sequences that disturbingly resonate the terms of the condition, the screenplay synthetically elaborates the condition in sharp color contrasts and vocal distortions that illustrates what is taking place without actually putting us in the shoes of our tortured protagonist. This kind of responsibility is something that I appreciate in a teenage film, not only because it adds more than just the typical teenage plot that ties all of these films together under one roof, but also because it maintains responsibility in its depiction, so that it never underscores just what about the condition we should take so seriously without sacrificing the intoxicating atmosphere that the quirky cast of characters supplant.
– Tonal consistency. The screenplay toes some very sharp twists and adjustments in tone that shouldn’t work for all of its spontaneity, yet somehow does for the way everything is maturely earned and realized. From the first act, the film felt very much like a comedy to me, conveying Adam’s life and condition with a sarcastically dry overhead narration from Adam himself. This warmly sets that this is anything but a story you’ve heard before, all the while preparing you for what’s to come by hinting at the worst of it early on. From there, the film matures into a romantic drama of sorts, where the bond between Adam and Maya blossoms into something more, without heavily weighing down the focus of the film into trying to be something that wasn’t advertised. Finally, the last act is a full-fledged psychological drama that contorts itself into bringing forth as much dark and disturbing circumstances that a PG-13 will house. None of this ever feels jarring or adjacent to the sum of its parts, instead merging together as one cohesive story where all minds of creativity were united as one. It helps us grow with the characters, all the while hitting on the unpredictability of an illness that materializes into something completely different with each passing minute, just like the movie.
– Fresh-faced cast. Plummer and Russell are two actors who I have seen countless times in other projects, but feel right at home here with roles that challenge them emotionally in ways those previous efforts didn’t. For Plummer, he wears the weight of his struggles candidly, preserving silence in a way that conveys something dark and sinister is lurking beneath his calm demeanor. His charisma is inviting, but it’s his vulnerability for the condition that earns him empathy from the audience, solidifying what is easily his best performance to date. Russell is a little trickier, as at first I felt her character was a little overdone to feel sincere. However, as we learn more about her backstory and family drama, we start to understand more about her like Adam does, and soon fall prey to a sassiness and endless supply of tears that splash our canvas like the rainfall. The chemistry between them leaves everything on the field of expectations, and culminates in a union-cementing kiss while watching Drew Barrymore in “Never Been Kissed”.
– Power of Thor. No, this isn’t a Marvel movie, but rather respect towards the movie’s helmer, who seems to follow in the footsteps of John Hughes and Stephen Chbosky in offering a timely delve into teenage relations for the timeframe that no one else can grasp. This isn’t a movie as concerned with social systems, despite the entirety of its setting weaving in and out of a prestigious catholic school. Instead, Thor puts the horse before the cart, valuing the characters over the plot in a way that fleshes them out as if we are a friend who clings to their lives in search of information about each of them. This offers some stirring reveals and stark contrasts with the initial exposition about them that we became saddled with, but gives us no shortage of depth to hang our hats onto with a story that constantly switches up dynamics to see if its audience is paying attention. I faithfully was throughout, and especially appreciated the urgency that played into a frequently mentioned upcoming Prom Night where the stakes for Adam couldn’t be higher.
– Psyche 101. One gimmick that I found almost entirely rewarding within the film was a therapist framing that shoots every interaction with Adam on the couch with a Point-of-view angle that pits us as the therapist we never see or hear in question. What I love about this is it develops a connection between Adam and the audience that really cements a level of empathetic investment in his character, consistently reminding us of the charismatic ahead-of-his-years teen that resides somewhere inside this cloudy fog. Besides that, it alludes to the areas where the field of medicine and psychology often fails these kids, manipulating them with a trust that only stretches as far as the pen on the contract can write. This felt far more effective than casting just another character in a movie with already plenty of them, because I felt Adam’s constant reveals triggered emotions in me that otherwise wouldn’t if his focus was aimed somewhere other than my eyes at all times, and is nearly perfectly realized, with the exception of a line in the dialogue during the movie, where Adam refers to his psychologist as she, which momentarily took me out of my casting in the role. Otherwise, creative stuff.
– Special effects. Much credit to the film’s production for making the condition of Schizophrenia come to life in these fantastical sequences that blow through some of that limited budget accordingly. The visual effects display a devastation within the mind of one powerful young man forced to endure the blurred line between fantasy and reality, realized in a way that feels intentionally animated in movements to give off the impression that they were manufactured by the mind, and not logically rendered with all of the laws of physics. This is all made even more chilling with a deep metallic voice coming from the shadows that motivates all of Adam’s moves. Something this otherworldly sounding manifests itself in the form of this black smoke that vocalizes all of the darkness within Adam’s mind, overtaking the scenes it accompanies with this suffocating level of pressure that swallows everyone and everything whole, and gives the movie a bit of literal illustration that tells and shows us everything taking precedent in this moments of silence.
– Stylish substance. Not to be outdone by a script with all of the highlights mentioned above, the movie’s visual presentation capped off with a challenging and complex cinematography from online instigator Michael Goi, plays into the mental capacity that makes this one character narration constantly feel bigger than life. By putting us into Adam’s head, the use of different angles between each cut feels evident towards articulating Adam’s off-balance, but beyond that its off-putting nature that slightly distorts an otherwise perfect image, gives off that stressed, uneasy feeling that keeps the audience on its toes at all times. Goi’s work never feels intrusive or distracting with the rest of the elements of production, instead garnering a subtlety for the conventional that is so impressively created that its almost captured with a blink-and-you-might-miss-it kind of selflessness.
– Respectful. To anyone who appreciates a movie that is faithfully adapted from a book to a movie, “Words on Bathroom Walls” might not be the cup of tea you were hoping. Why that doesn’t bother me is that it changes things for the film that makes for more compelling drama, and the things change never feels like it hinders its creativity. In particular, it’s the dynamic between Adam and a newfound Stepfather, who wasn’t in the book, who allows an antagonist of sorts for Adam as he tries to find himself through a barrage of medications and new faces in a new school. Little things like those are the biggest deviation, and because the structure of the film remains faithful to its literary counterpart, it allows both properties to live and prosper within the minds of its fans, all the while throwing in a few surprises along the way that freshens up the familiarity of what they previously already knew.
– Corny at times. Even with the weight and consequences of some pretty dire material, the film can’t escape that ABC Family glow of cheese that resulted in some occasionally eye-rolling moments. Part of it stems from dialogue that sometimes feels either a bit too on-the-nose or overly hip to forcefully replicate that teenage authenticity of lingo. It just comes across as feeling more obviously written by an adult, and is only the first of the problems for this section. The second, and slightly bigger problem, points to the movie’s limited rating capacity, which sometimes limits it from pushing the envelope to where the material should be in its darkest times. There are definitely moments of impact, but nothing we see feels deserving of the rock bottom moment that the movie is depending on, instead settling for lukewarm melodrama that is hinted at, but never fully realized because of some cleverly cut editing during Adam’s lowest moment. It makes me wish the film would’ve pushed the envelope a little harder, and paid off on the suffocating level of stakes that it asks for during the film’s first 90 minutes.
– Convenient conclusion. In my opinion, the end of the film is wrapped up in a way that is a little too nicely, or at the very least a little too quickly. I do enjoy that it does cement some personal growth from characters that comes during the biggest moments, but the execution of its path to clarity feels a bit rushed in how it wraps everything up. We spend most of the entirety of the picture with a character who can’t trust his own brain, or if even the things in front of his eyes are real, so I think the film’s resolution deserves slightly more time to give everything that came before it some more justice. It concludes in a way that tugs a bit too hard for audience affirmation in the form of cinematic epiphanies, and underscores some of the permanency that nearly costs Adam everyone and everything that he has.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+