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Words on Bathroom Walls
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by Jack Sommersby

"Plummer is Quite the Plum"
4 stars

In an unfortunate day and age of impersonal big-budget superhero movies, this is a welcome surprise.

A winning, easygoing young actor by the name of Charlie Plummer delivers a superb lead performance as a seventeen-year-old high-school senior whose trials and tribulations stemming from his paranoid schizophrenia are affectingly rendered in the flawed but recommendable Words on Bathroom Walls. Plummer's Adam aspires to be a professional chef, dreaming about attending culinary school after graduation, but he needs a diploma, and after a hallucinatory outburst in science class that accidentally leaves his lab partner badly injured, he's transferred out and enrolled in an expensive Catholic school (despite his atheism) to finish out the year. Adam is being treated for his condition, but it's his bad luck to be physiologically resistant to antipsychotic medications - on a regular basis he hears voices and sees three recurring figures who aren't there, consisting of a Lindsay Lohan-looking babe, a prison-tat muscle man with a baseball bat, and a wisecracking college-age playboy; they're his allies, so he thinks, but they discourage him from taking an experimental medication that threatens to shut them out of his mind. That would be enough for any teenager to deal with, but his divorced single mom has recently let her new boyfriend move into the house, who's not a bad guy but Adam feels threatened by him - he's convinced he'll no longer be his mother's center of attention. For a while Adam's visual hallucinations seem a bit overblown and extravagant: they come off as more "cinematic" than psychologically sound, with the director, Thor Freudenthal, employing too much CGI that calls our attention to the film as such. And there are well-worn cliches we could do without involving a one-dimensional bully, an academically smart but low-income love interest from "the wrong side of the tracks," a martinet of a by-the-book nun headmaster, and jejune juvenility with references to projectile diarrhea and anal leakage (seriously, what the holy hell?). But even when the tone is uneven and the dialogue not quite as sharp as we'd like (I'd say four times out of ten you can practically tell what a character is going to say) the everyday ramifications of Adam's incurable illness are convincingly rendered, and Plummer, who's in every single scene, is amazing in his undiluted emotional accessibility - he really opens himself up to the camera and never overdoes things by showboating and acting in italics. It's a remarkably controlled piece of work from someone his age, and one looks forward to what this fine thespian will have to offer in the future. And in the supporting ranks Molly Parker (the mother), Walton Higgins (the boyfriend), Taylor Russell (the girlfriend), and the always-welcome Andy Garcia (as a receptive priest) earn their lunches as well. Words on Bathroom Walls has its melodramatic excesses, but to its credit it distinguishes itself enough so we don't come out of the theater thinking "a high-school version of A Beautiful Mind." When it stays the course and respects its subject and lets Charlie Plummer strut his considerable stuff, it's something of a lovely cinematic achievement.

I simply can't think how any grade-school student couldn't get anything positive out of this.

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originally posted: 09/06/20 09:50:11
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  21-Aug-2020 (PG-13)
  DVD: 17-Nov-2020


  DVD: 17-Nov-2020

Directed by
  Thor Freudenthal

Written by
  Nick Naveda

  Charlie Plummer
  Taylor Russell
  Molly Parker
  Walton Higgins
  Andy Garcia

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