by Kyle Arango
During this time of the pandemic where all the blockbuster films have fallen by the wayside and theaters are closed, we have only had smaller films to look forward to. Most of them we had no idea were coming out, so it is always nice to find that diamond in the rough. When Words on Bathroom Walls was brought to my attention, it sounded like it could be special. So were my ambitions correct? Unfortunately not. While a noble concept and intriguing story, they never fully utilize their concept and it all comes across as a wasted opportunity when all is said and done.
Words on Bathroom Walls follows Adam who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and has imaginary friends who follow him everywhere he goes. When his mother finds a treatment for him, Adam loses those friends and must deal with life without normalcy while also trying to keep his struggle a secret. All of this is going on while another brilliant classmate inspires him to open himself up and let others in. On the surface, this is an interesting way to tackle a story about mental illness. You show how they feel like what they are dealing with is normal and how when others try to help, it can make them feel like something is wrong with them. They throw in the fun imaginary friends and interactions between them and Adam, and you have a fascinating story. The problem is they never go far enough. It constantly feels like they are on the cusp of something interesting and then never go fully there. That is incredibly frustrating to us as an audience where were expecting something to happen and when it finally does, it disappears with a whimper. It could’ve been so much more.
One of the biggest issues with this film is the miscasting of its two leads. I hate to dunk on new young actors, but they were not the right choices for this film, or they were just misdirected. Charlie Plummer looks so scared and not ready for this moment as the lead. For about 3/4ths of this film he is one-note and boring which should not be the case for a character with paranoid schizophrenia. We need personality from a lead and Plummer just does not have what it takes to handle a character of this weight. It is not until towards the end that his emotions finally come out and by that point it is too late. He is already so bland that we lost interest awhile ago at where his story is going. It is a different story for the love interest Taylor Russell. She is perfect as the shy girl in other films but here she is asked to be a dominant personality and it comes off as phony. Her voice is very soft and she does her best with what she’s told, this is just not the role for her. If both of our leads are stumbling to carry a film, you have a major problem.
On the opposite side of that, the strong actors are all wasted in supporting roles that are never given enough. AnnaSophia Robb is an actress I thought was going to be the next big thing after films such as The Way Way Back or Soul Surfer. I was really a big fan and then suddenly she disappeared and is now subject to being an imaginary friend who barely speaks in an independent film. She should’ve been in Taylor Russell’s role. Maybe that’s the problem here, the actors were cast in the wrong roles. You have other actors in Molly Parker, Andy Garcia, and Walton Goggins who are given absolutely NOTHING to do. The most egregious is Goggins who is setup to be this bad stepdad. He has a payoff you don’t see coming but not in a good way, a way instead that is never setup and comes out of nowhere. I know I am being tough, it is just because I felt this movie had something and it just never took the next step. There is stuff to appreciate. The use of the imaginary friends is very clever and the window they give us into the mind of someone with this condition works very well. It just all feels wasted by the potential that was there but never accessed.
I did not completely hate this movie like this review might seem, I am just frustrated by what this film had to offer considering the pieces it had involved. It felt like we got the worst possible good version of this story. The title Words on Bathroom Walls never pays off either. It is just another film that wastes its talent and potential and that might be worse than a bad film in of itself because instead of bad, it is just forgettable.
Photo Credits to Jacob Yacob
Courtesy: LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions