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“Words On Bathroom Walls” Gives A Mature Sheen To The YA Genre

It would have been very easy for Words on Bathroom Walls to take a simplistic approach to the story that it’s telling. Young Adult novels that get turned into movies tend to lean on heavy themes, but don’t always tackle them in particularly mature ways. This one, however, is willing to go that route, allowing themes of mental illness to get the gravitas that it deserves. Much like The Fault in Our Stars managed to overcome its YA routes to become something more, this one is able to as well. It’s not on the level of that YA tearjerker, but it’s a quality new release well worth your time this week.

The film is a teen drama, following Adam (Charlie Plummer), who seems to be your garden variety high schooler. Everything on the outside makes him appear to be a young adult like any other, even if he’s determined to become a chef, as opposed to a more common career. However, when he had an incident in his chemistry class halfway through senior year, he’s not only expelled, but also diagnosed with a mental illness. His mother opts to send Adam to a Catholic academy to finish out his term, which is a place he figures he’ll never fit into, so it’s just a matter of getting by. If he can just keep his illness a secret long enough, he’ll graduate and be able to enroll in culinary school, putting this all in the past. Then, he comes across the outspoken and intelligent classmate Maya (Taylor Russell), who sees something special in him. Quickly, there is a connection between the two of them, one that leads to romance. As progresses, she gives him the courage to tackle his condition in a more forthright way. Of course, the disease is always in the background, waiting to appear and ruin his day, or worse, potentially his life. Thor Freudenthal directs a screenplay by Nick Naveda, with cinematography by Michael Goi, as well as a score from Andrew Hollander. Rounding out the cast, in addition to Plummer and Taylor, are Andy Garcia, Walton Goggins, Molly Parker, and AnnaSophia Robb, among others.

In addition to some notable visual choices, which depict Adam’s mental illness in the form of colorful characters, as well as voices off in the shadows, the acting by Charlie Plummer and Taylor Russell helps to set this one apart. Plummer leans in to the charm and likable nature of his role, as well as the darkness creeping into his personality. It’s a complex part, one he’s able to play with no difficulty at all. Russell elevates a character that could have been simple on the page, filling her with vibrancy and warmth. Their chemistry together is palpable.

Words on Bathroom Walls takes a little too long to reach its conclusion, with the middle section lagging, but the ending does happen to be a really well earned one. The final scene, in particular, works even better than expected. Director Thor Freudenthal and scribe Nick Naveda find enough ways to make sure this novel is a justified cinematic experience, even if the pacing could use a little work. Having Plummer and Russell be so good in their roles doesn’t hurt, either.

This Friday, fans of the novel, as well as anyone looking for a quality YA offering would do well to give a shot to Words on Bathroom Walls. While it may not be spectacular, it’s arguably a lot better than you might have expected. Charlie Plummer and Taylor Russell are going to be stars, and when they’re at the top of the A-list, this will be one of the works you look back on and realize was a sign. Russell in particular is truly going places. Give this one a look and you’ll undoubtedly see why.

Be sure to check out Words on Bathroom Walls, available to watch this weekend!

(Photos courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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