Words On Bathroom Walls
Starring Charlie Plummer, Taylor Russell
Directed by Thor Freudenthal
To make a film on a protagonist suffering from schizophrenia and to keep the tone light without falling into the trap of trivializing the issue is not an easy feat. Words On Bathroom Walls manages that feat with its feet firmly on the ground. It’s a celebration of mental illness without becoming health-porn, one of those sickeningly smug stories on sick people .
In Hindi cinema we have a good parallel in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand where the protagonist (played so memorably by Rajesh Khanna) can smile in the face of death. Young Adam(Charlie Plummer) is not dying but he smiles a lot even if it feels close to death when he has one of those awful delusional attacks. He hears voices constantly and he sees people no one else can.
All this could have been grotesquely exploitative in lesser hands. Director Thor Freudenthal weaves a mellow,disarming yarn out of a grim mental condition. We enter Adam’s mind hear the voices that only he hears, sees the three friends(played with unsettling insouciance by AnnaSophia Robb, Devon Bostick and Lobo Sebastain representing three different states of Adam’s delusional state) that one he can see. We see and hear with Adam and yet we are able to remain outside his experience and able to understand what he is going through.
The film also encircles Adam’s vital relationship with his beleaguered mother(Molly Parker,distraught yet restrained) who is trying her best to figure out how to cope with her son’s growing illness and his troubled relationship with the mother’s boyfriend, a well-meaning baffled outsider trying to acquire the position of an insider.
But above all this, Words On Bathroom Walls is a love story, the delicately drawn encounters between Adam and the spirited Hispanic Maya(Taylor Russell) are to die for.Although this is not her film, Taylor Russell shines as Maya who has some secrets of her own that she conceals from Adam just as he conceals his illness from her. That he can hide his schizophrenia from her for so long is hard to believe.
However young Christopher Plummer’s performance as a wannabe chef whose mind is trapped in a terrifyingly tormenting terrain of self-flagellation and guilt, makes one forget the film’s minor failings and improbable plot twists.Plummer plunges into Adam’s mind , shares his character’s anxieties and terror. It is a performance that doesn’t beckon with bravado.Plummer simply pulls us in.