Adam (Charlie Plummer), who appears to be your typical young adult—a little unkempt with raging hormones and excited about pursuing his dream of becoming a chef. Expelled halfway through his senior year, Adam is diagnosed with a mental illness that he keeps a secret at his new school. Living in constant fear of being exposed, Adam finds a soulful, comforting connection in Maya (Taylor Russell), an outspoken and fiercely intelligent girl who inspires him to open his heart and not be defined by his condition. With the love and support of his newfound romance and family, Adam is hopeful for the very first time that he can see the light and triumph over the challenges that lie ahead.
Adam knows he’s different, that the people he sees and the things he sees aren’t actually there, but as with most bouts of truth, there’s still a daily struggle to accept what’s real. After accidentally hurting another student in the chemistry lab, Adam is taken to the hospital where he is diagnosed with schizophrenia, a mental disorder that puts patients in a state of psychosis. Psychosis suspends a person outside of reality, where they see and hear things that aren’t there, which can make everyday functions difficult.
Expelled from his high school, Adam is taken to St. Agatha’s Catholic School where the school board is willing to work with Adam, so long as he continues to take medicine and stay on top of treatment. Unfortunately, there’s no magical pill for schizophrenia, so while medication helps, it doesn’t resolve the problem, keeping the simplest, most monotonous tasks a challenge. However, the uphill fight gets a little easier when the upcoming valedictorian, Maya, teaches Adam to break down his walls and accept himself.
With his dream of becoming a chef on the line, Adam must face the normal, more hormonal high school realities and the not-so-normal realities of schizophrenia to finish high school and keep his relationships, sanity, and self-worth intact.
Themes of understanding, acceptance, and resilience guide Words on Bathroom Walls, creating the avenue for parents to discuss mental health with their older children, to normalize therapy, brain medication, and respecting others with mental illnesses. However, bitter, sarcastic references to Christianity are heavy.
Adam has a hard time with Jesus when he doesn’t feel that He’s ever helped him, so there are lots of side jokes and sarcastic comments about Jesus and the Christian faith. Meanwhile, Father Patrick with St. Agatha’s doesn’t give up on Adam, constantly offering Scripture and kind advice. Though Adam never comes around to the faith in the film, Father Patrick becomes his confidant.
More mature elements include vulgar, sexual references scattered throughout the film, as well as curse words and other inappropriate potty talk. Due to these negative elements, this film is Not Dove-approved.
The Dove Take:
For the first time, a film gives an honest, empathetic look into the life of a main character battling mental illness in modern culture, but language and offhanded jokes about Christianity remain prominent.