Mo­ments of fan­tasy mud­dle well-mean­ing teen com­edy

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - BY RICHARD ROEPER, MOVIE COLUM­NIST rroeper@sun­times.com | @RichardERo­eper

At times “Words on Bath­room Walls” feels like an earnest teen com­edy in the mode of the John Hughes movies or the re­cent “Love, Si­mon,” with up­beat orig­i­nal techno-pop mu­sic from the Chainsmok­ers to the smart and flip­pant pro­tag­o­nist nar­rat­ing his own story to the oblig­a­tory cafe­te­ria and school dance scenes, to the sweet ro­mance be­tween two seem­ingly mis­matched kids from dif­fer­ent worlds who meet-cute and clash at first but even­tu­ally dis­cover they have .... yes ... far more in com­mon than any­one would have thought.

Just as of­ten, we’re plunged into a hor­ror/fan­tasy story as the main char­ac­ter is mocked and scorned by an un­seen tor­men­tor with a me­chan­i­cal-bari­tone voice, is vis­ited by a trio of imag­i­nary friends and ex­pe­ri­ences ter­ri­fy­ing hal­lu­ci­na­tions in which peo­ple and rooms are set on fire and omi­nous black smoke en­velopes the room.

These dras­tic shifts in tone are in­tended to il­lus­trate what life is like for high school se­nior Adam Pe­trazelli (Charlie Plum­mer), who has been di­ag­nosed with schizophre­nia and never knows when he’ll ex­pe­ri­ence an­other episode in which his hands will start to shake and he’ll hear voices and pos­si­bly even turn vi­o­lent as he tries to es­cape from de­mons that ex­ist only in his head.

Based on the novel of the same name and di­rected by Thor Freuden­thal, “Words on Bath­room Walls” is clearly in­tended to be a re­spect­ful and thought-pro­vok­ing take on men­tal ill­ness, with no sug­ar­coat­ing of the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects the disease has on not only Adam but those who love him. It has more than a few ten­der and touch­ing mo­ments, whether Adam is ten­ta­tively en­ter­ing into a ro­mance with a bril­liant girl named Maya (Taylor Rus­sell), who has a se­cret of her own; lit­er­ally con­fess­ing to the kindly Fa­ther Pa­trick (Andy Gar­cia), or clash­ing with his mother (Molly Parker) and her new hus­band (Wal­ton Gog­gins), who only want what’s best for Adam — even if they might not al­ways know what’s best for him.

All well and fine. Un­for­tu­nately, the road gets far too rocky in the hal­lu­ci­na­tory scenes, as we meet Adam’s imag­i­nary friends: Joaquin (Devon Bo­stick), a slightly smarmy, typ­i­cal teen movie best pal, who urges Adam to act on his ro­man­tic im­pulses; the men­ac­ing “Body­guard” (Lobo Se­bas­tian), who wears a track suit and wields an alu­minum bat and is al­ways warn­ing Adam of im­pend­ing dan­ger, and Re­becca (An­naSophia Robb), a flighty hip­pie type. They’re car­i­ca­tures and they’re dis­tract­ing, and while this de­vice might have worked in the novel, it is in­ef­fec­tive here. Also, a cou­ple of late dra­matic mo­ments ring false and over­wrought.

Charlie Plum­mer and Taylor Rus­sell are sweet and won­der­ful and authen­tic as Adam and Maya. “Words on Bath­room Walls” has its mo­ments and its heart is in the right place, but the mis­steps are too many and too big for the story to carry the day.

LD EN­TER­TAIN­MENT/ROAD­SIDE AT­TRAC­TIONS

The teen ro­mance of Adam (Charlie Plum­mer) and Maya (Taylor Rus­sell) feels authen­tic in “Words on Bath­room Walls.”

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