Review: ‘Moonfall’ (2022), starring Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Peña, Charlie Plummer, Wenwen Yu and Donald Sutherland

January 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson in “Moonfall” (Photo by Reiner Bajo/Lionsgate)

“Moonfall” (2022)

Directed by Roland Emmerich

Culture Representation: Taking place in Washington, D.C.; New York City; Los Angeles; Colorado and outer space, the sci-fi/action film “Moonfall” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A high-ranking NASA astronaut, a former NASA astronaut and a science conspiracy theorist all team up and sometimes disagree on how to handle an impending apocalypse where the moon is on a path of destruction to Earth.

Culture Audience: “Moonfall” will appeal mainly to people who don’t mind watching silly sci-fi films with ridiculous scenarios and cringeworthy dialogue.

John Bradley in “Moonfall” (Photo by Reiner Bajo/Lionsgate)

How do you make an apocalypse film so idiotic that the movie is its own kind of disaster? “Moonfall” can answer that question. This sloppy sci-fi flick has more holes in its plot than craters on the moon. It’s not even a “so bad it’s good” movie. The filmmaking in “Moonfall” is so lazy, with generic characters and a story that’s absolutely cringeworthy. Slick but not-very-impressive visual effects are thrown into the movie as a weak attempt to distract viewers from a nonsensical story that makes an atrocious mockery of NASA.

“Moonfall” was directed by Roland Emmerich, who’s known for helming a lot of “end of the world” or “monsters attack” disaster movies, but the terrible ones he’s made far outnumber the good ones. “Moonfall” is one of his worst. Emmerich co-wrote the abominable “Moonfall” screenplay with Spenser Cohen and Harald Kloser. Although there are some talented people in the “Moonfall” cast, they’re stuck in a horrendous movie where they have to embarrass themselves.

The movie opens with an ill-fated NASA spaceship mission with three astronauts on board: Jocinda “Jo” Fowler (played by Halle Berry), Brian Harper (played by Patrick Wilson) and Alan Marcus (played by Frank Fiola)—a tight-knit trio of co-workers who respect each other. Something goes terribly wrong in space, as a massive dark force resembling a cosmic storm comes out of nowhere and seems to attack the ship.

Debris flies everywhere, causing the ship to bounce around and almost capsize. Brian is able to steer the ship back in the correct position, but Alan doesn’t make it out alive. Back on Earth, Brian insists that there’s a deadly force out in space that deliberately caused the attack. However, NASA officials say that’s a crazy idea and declare this fatal space trip to be a fluke accident.

The movie then shows Brian’s 8-year-old son Sonny (played by Azriel Dalman) sadly looking at the TV news, which is reporting that Brian, who has been fired from NASA, is suing NASA for wrongful termination. In court testimony, Brian reiterates that there’s something terrible out in space that must be investigated and stopped. NASA has labeled Brian as a mentally unstable former astronaut who has no credibility.

Sonny is unhappy not just because of what happened to his father. He’s also upset because he and his mother Brenda (played by Carolina Bartczak) are moving to New Jersey without Brian. Not only has Brian’s career fallen apart, his marriage to Brenda has also deteriorated, and they eventually divorce. Brian is also bitter because Jo, who still works for NASA, testified in NASA’s defense, and it’s ruined their friendship.

“Moonfall” then cuts to 10 years later. Brian is unemployed with a drinking problem and a bad temper. Sonny (played by Charlie Plummer) is now a troubled rebel who’s a student at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Sonny lives with his mother Brenda and her current husband Tom Lopez (played by Michael Peña), who owns a successful car dealership. Also in the household are Tom’s two daughters from a previous marriage: Nikki Lopez (played by Ava Weiss), who’s about 13 or 14, and Lauren Lopez (played by Hazel Nugent), who’s about 10 or 11. The family also has a vacation home in Aspen, Colorado. (“Moonfall” was actually filmed in Montreal and Los Angeles.)

An unnecessary scene in the movie shows Sonny getting arrested with a friend during a high-speed chase with police that was on live television. Illegal drugs were found in the car, but Sonny swears that the drugs belong to the friend. Sonny’s arrest just leads to another time-wasting scene of Brian showing up for Sonny’s arraignment in court and making a complete ass of himself, by yelling at the judge that Sonny is innocent. It’s Brian’s way of trying to make up for being an absentee father, but Brian’s courtroom outbursts make things worse, and the judge rules for Sonny to be held without bail until Sonny’s next courtroom hearing.

Meanwhile, level-headed Jo has risen through the ranks at NASA, where she reports to NASA director Albert Hutchings (played by Stephen Bogaert), an arrogant boss who is very condescending and dismissive of Jo. Just like Brian, Jo is also a divorced parent. Her ex-husband is General Doug Davidson (played by Eme Ikwuakor), a hard-edged military official who hangs out a lot at NASA headquarters. Jo and Doug have a son named Jimmy (played by Zayn Maloney), who’s about 8 or 9 years old. Jo has hired a college student named Michelle (played by Wenwen Yu) to be a live-in nanny who can help take care of Jimmy.

Someone will eventually cross paths with Jo and Brian and team up with them for the movie’s mind-numbing “we have to save the world” part of the movie. His name is K.C. Houseman (played by John Bradley), and he’s a fast-talking Brit who’s a conspiracy theorist and a wannabe scientist. K.C. works as a janitor at a university, where he makes secret and illegal phone calls and computer log-ins, by impersonating one of the university’s professors when everyone has left the office for the day.

K.C. is a bachelor loner who is obsessed with moon travel and how the moon can affect Earth. How obsessed is he with moon travel? He named his cat Fuzz Aldrin, as a tribute to famed Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. K.C.’s widowed mother, who uses a wheelchair and lives in a nursing home, has dementia. K.C. visits her, but she sometimes forgets who he is.

When he’s not working as a janitor who impersonates scientist professors and hacks into their computers, K.C. works in the drive-through window at a fast-food restaurant. In his spare time, K.C. has been working on proving a theory that the moon’s orbit is about to radically shift. One evening at the fast-food place, K.C. gets a message on his phone from one of the people he conned into thinking that he’s a scientist. The message has some information that indicates that K.C.’s “moon orbit shift” theory could become a reality. The theory spreads like wildfire on the Internet.

K.C. sees a newspaper report that it’s Astronaut Day at Griffith Park Observatory, where Brian is scheduled to make a speaking appearance in front of some school kids. This movie is so badly written, it doesn’t explain why a disgraced and former NASA astronaut would be invited to make this type of speaking appearance. It’s all a poorly conceived contrivance for K.C. to show up before Brian does, so that K.C. can start giving his own “astronaut” lecture to the children.

When Brian arrives (he’s late because he overslept, probably because of his drinking problem), he’s irritated to see that K.C. has taken over the lecture. Brian doesn’t know who K.C. is, but Brian can easily see that K.C. is some kind of fake scientist, even though K.C. insists that he’s a “doctor.” K.C. tells Brian that he believes Brian about there being a mysterious force that’s in the universe and that it could be why the moon’s orbit will shift. K.C. still doesn’t make a good impression on Brian, who summons security personnel to have K.C. thrown out of the building.

Meanwhile, Jo is at NASA declaring to anyone who’ll listen: “We have to go back to the moon! We have to see what’s going on up there!” Some astronauts are quickly sent back to the moon, as if this type of space trip is as easy as booking a plane flight. But this expedition to the moon ends badly. It’s the first time that NASA officials see the “mysterious force,” which now has octopus-like tentacles than can kill.

It isn’t long before all hell breaks loose. Earth gets hit with tidal waves of floods everywhere. It’s at the same time that K.C. and Brian have met up again in a diner, because at this point, K.C. is the only person who will believe Brian. The flooding destroys the diner, right in the middle of K.C. and Brian’s conversation. It’s one of the unintentionally hilarious parts of the movie.

K.C. thinks that the mysterious force in the universe has caused the moon to veer off course and triggered disastrous weather on Earth. In addition to floods, there are massive earthquakes and storms. People start panicking, and there’s widespread looting. Military officials, including a stereotypical “nuke ’em all” type named General Jenkins (played by Frank Schorpion), argue about whether or not the moon should be attacked with nuclear weapons.

Jo and her boss Albert are at NASA headquarters when she somberly says the obvious to him: “Everything we knew about the universe is out the window. We’re not prepared for this.” There’s so much mass chaos that Albert abruptly quits his job as director of NASA and says that Jo can be in charge and have the job. He gives his NASA badge to her as “clearance.” Yes, the movie really is this stupid.

Guess who’s going into space to save the world? Brian, K.C. and Jo make the trip under a series of jumbled and preposterous circumstances. Meanwhile, there’s a subplot where Sonny, Brenda, Tom, Lauren, Nikki, Jimmy and Michelle all end up together, as they fight for their lives in the snowy mountains of Colorado, in an attempt to get to a safety bunker. Somehow during this life-or-death situation, Sonny and Michelle find time to make goo-goo eyes at each other and act like they want to date each other when this pesky apocalypse is all over.

Why are they in the Colorado mountains? There’s some nonsense in the movie that the higher the elevation where people can be, the less likely they will be killed. Apparently, the “Moonfall” filmmakers want viewers to forget that this “safety precaution” is pointless if you’re trapped on a mountain where you could be buried in a snowy avalanche caused by earthquakes that are happening all over the world.

It gets worse. If you dare to subject yourself to this time-wasting trash movie, it might be hard for you not to laugh at the big “reveal” of why this “mysterious force” exists in the universe. The answer is supposed to make the movie look “deep,” but it’s just a pathetic attempt to rip off “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

At certain parts of the movie, “Moonfall” co-stars Berry and Wilson look like they’re trying their best to convincingly deliver some of the moronic dialogue that they have to spout, but it’s a hopeless effort. Bradley’s K.C. character is relentlessly annoying. Donald Sutherland has a cameo as a scientist named Holdenfield, who does what a Donald Sutherland cameo character usually does in a movie: He briefly shows up to act like he knows more than anyone else in the room.

Peña, who’s usually typecast as a wisecracking character, is given some lackluster and awkwardly placed “jokes” in this movie’s failed comic relief. Worst of all, “Moonfall” takes itself way too seriously to be considered a campy bad movie. You’re more likely to be grimacing than laughing if you end up watching “Moonfall,” a horrible misfire that crashes and burns in more ways than one.

Lionsgate will release “Moonfall” in U.S. cinemas on February 4, 2022.

Review: ‘Spontaneous,’ starring Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer

October 7, 2020

by Carla Hay

Charlie Plummer and Katherine Langford in “Spontaneous” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Spontaneous”

Directed by Brian Duffield

Culture Representation: Taking place in a fictional U.S. suburban city called Covington, the sci-fi/horror comedy “Spontaneous” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two opposite teenagers fall in love during a mysterious plague that causes people to spontaneously combust.

Culture Audience: “Spontaneous” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in unconventional teen comedies that have many dark themes and gory moments.

Hayley Law and Katherine Langford in “Spontaneous” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

The poster for the movie “Spontaneous” makes it look like a typical carefree teen romantic comedy. This movie is definitely not carefree or a typical rom-com. In fact, the second half of the film gets so dark and depressing that unsuspecting viewers might wonder if they if they were duped into seeing the wrong movie. “Spontaneous” might not please people who are looking for a more conventional story, but if people are willing to experience a movie that takes some bold risks in the teen-oriented film genre, then “Spontaneous” is worth watching.

Brian Duffield wrote and directed “Spontaneous,” which is based on the novel of the same title by Aaron Starmer. The movie adeptly manages the difficult challenge of blending science fiction, horror and dark comedy. For the most part, it works. And thanks to a brutally sardonic performance by Katherine Langford, “Spontaneous” could very well become a cult classic for teen films.

In “Spontaneous,” Langford portrays Mara Carlyle, who narrates the story as if she’s looking back on her life several years later. When this story takes place, Mara is a senior at Covington High School in a fictional American suburban city called Covington. Mara doesn’t fall into a lot of movie stereotypes of pretty blondes in high school. She’s not a cheerleader, a star student, a popular girl, a stuck-up rich kid, or a girl who sleeps around. In fact, unlike most teen protagonists in movies, Mara doesn’t have any burning ambitions in life, she’s not obsessing over a crush, and she’s not trying to get anyone’s approval in particular, not even the approval of her best friend.

Mara’s best friend since elementary school is Tess McNulty (played by Hayley Law), who is as sensible and cautious as Mara is unpredictable and impulsive. Mara likes to get high on illegal drugs and get drunk, while Tess doesn’t do drugs and occasionally drinks alcohol, but never to the point where she’s vomiting or out of control. (The movie has several scenes where Mara spends a lot of her time intoxicated.)

Tess is a student who takes school seriously and has plans for college. Mara does just enough to get by academically and doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life after she graduates from high school. What these two girls have in common is a mutual respect for each other and a plan to eventually live together in a beach house when they’re old.

The movie gets to the “sci-fi/horror” aspect right away, when a student named Katelyn Ogden (played by Mellany Barros), who’s in one of Mara’s classes, suddenly and spontaneously explodes during a class session. There’s blood everywhere in the classroom, everyone runs out of the school screaming in horror, and people are left wondering why this bizarre death happened. As one of the students says later in describing the incident: “It was like a Cronenberg movie.”

Shortly before this incident, Mara had been getting anonymous text messages from a mystery admirer who told her in the messages that Mara has been a crush of this admirer for the past two years. In response, she texts this mystery person with a message saying, “No dick pics.” The secret admirer then texts her a picture of Richard Nixon, with the message, “Sorry, it’s crooked.”

Mara is intrigued and charmed by this person who seems to share her sarcastic sense of humor. While Tess and Mara hang out at a diner together after the “spontaneous combustion” incident, the secret admirer reveals himself. He asks if he could sit with them, and they say yes. Mara almost instantly guesses he’s the secret admirer from the way that he talks and looks at her.

His name is Dylan Hovemeyer (played by Charlie Plummer), who is also a senior at Covington High School. His personality is almost the opposite of Mara’s. Dylan is shy and awkward, while Mara is brash and confident. And although Dylan has pretty much made it clear that he could fall in love with Mara, she’s resistant to even saying the word “love” out loud and isn’t really looking for a serious relationship.

Mara is the type of person who will use illegal drugs or get drunk to escape from her problems or bad thoughts. Because of the trauma of witnessing the explosion firsthand, she decides to take a lot of psychedelic mushrooms in the tea that she’s drinking at the diner. By the time Dylan comes over to Mara and Tess’ table, Mara is flying high. But because she took so many mushrooms, she knows she’s going to get sick, so she asks Dylan to go with her to the diner’s restroom to hold her hair while she vomits.

Mara tells Dylan that she took a bunch of psychedelic mushrooms, so things might get weird. Sure enough, she tells Dylan that she’s seeing several clones of him in the bathroom. And she ends up vomiting a lot, while Dylan dutifully attends to her. Dylan thinks Mara’s hallucinations are kind of funny, and he’s more than happy to cater to Mara.

Mara decides that Dylan has passed an unofficial test of trust, since he saw her in a vulnerable state of intoxication and he didn’t judge her or take advantage of her, so she decides to hang out with him some more. They find out that they have the same taste in 1980s and 1990s rock music. Mara also likes Dylan’s quirks, such as later in movie when he buys a beat-up old milk-delivery/ice-cream truck and Mara thinks it’s one of the coolest vehicles she’s ever seen. Dylan and Mara, who both have no siblings, consider themselves to be outsiders who aren’t understood by very many people.

It should come as no surprise that Mara and Dylan end up dating each other and falling in love. But Mara is the type of girl who wants some independence, and she initially has a hard time admitting that Dylan is her boyfriend. And then there’s the possibility that Dylan will move away because of college. Dylan and Mara’s relationship begins at a time of the school year before students begin finding out which colleges they’ve applied to have accepted or rejected them. Mara and Dylan decide to just make the best of the time that they have together and figure it out as they go along.

On one of their first dates together, Dylan and Mara go to a football game, where on the field, one of the football players spontaneously explodes, which causes the expected bloody mayhem. And so begins a plague in the city where people randomly explode. It could happen to anyone at any time.

The FBI and other government agents descend on the city to investigate. One of those officials is Agent Rosetti (played by Yvonne Orji), who interviews many of the students at the high school, including Mara and Tess. Agent Rosetti is tough but compassionate as she tries to get to the bottom of this mystery. Every time Mara is questioned or interviewed by an authority figures, she gives snarky, unhelpful answers.

The students who were in the classroom of the first explosion are eventually put into a temporary quarantine together, where they go under intense medical exams. Mara predictably hates being confined, and she takes her resentment out on the authority figures. Here’s an example of Mara’s snide way of talking: During an examination with a doctor, the doctor asks Mara, “What do you want to do in college? Mara replies, “Stay alive.”

As more people start to explode in the city, religious conservatives begin flocking to Covington to hold protests because they believe the city’s residents, particularly the teenagers, are cursed by demons. They hold protests with picket signs that say things like, “The Devil Inside Your Children Has Found His Way Out,” “Covington Is Doomed” and “Repent or Perish.” Mara is not religious, but there comes a time when she, like many of the the other survivors, feels survivors’ guilt.

During all of this turmoil, Dylan and Mara become closer. He tells her that one of the reasons why he finally approached her after two years of admiring her from afar was because he doesn’t know how much longer they might have to live. Dylan also opens up about how the death of his father (who passed away from a heart attack) deeply affected him. Dylan, who used to live on a farm, says that after his father died, he would sometimes go in the barn and dance my himself while listen to his father’s favorite music.

“Spontaneous” has moments of sweet sentimentality, but most of the tone for this comedy is acerbic and occasionally it gets very bleak. The movie includes portrayals of overwhelming depression and substance abuse that get to dangerous levels. And unlike a lot of teen-oriented movies, there aren’t necessarily people coming to the rescue to help set any troubled teens down the right path.

Mara can be rude, selfish and irresponsible, but she also has a vulnerable, caring and loyal side that she shows to only a few special people in her life, including her parents. Mara’s parents Charlie (played by Rob Huebel) and Angela (played by Piper Perabo) want to be “cool” with Angela, so they smoke marijuana with her and they’re reluctant to discipline her. When she stays out past curfew time, they worry, but they don’t really punish her, since she’s almost 18 years old.

Some people watching “Spontaneous” might not warm up to Mara because she’s so flawed and has a “no filter” attitude, where she says what she thinks, even though it might be unpleasant or insensitive. On Halloween, when the students go to school wearing costumes, Mara dresses up as the fictional horror character Carrie (the bullied teen in Stephen King’s novel of the same name), who notoriously had a bucket of pig’s blood poured on her at her school prom.

However, Mara’s “Carrie” prom dress doesn’t have blood on it, because Mara is aware that it would be in bad taste, given the spontaneous bloody explosions that started with fellow student Katelyn Ogdon. When Dylan (who’s dressed as an Amish person) first sees Mara in the costume, he immediately guesses that she’s dressed as the “Carrie” horror character. Mara loves that Dylan instantly knew what her costume was, but she adds that “Katelyn fucked it up,” as in it was Katelyn’s “fault” that Mara couldn’t wear blood on the dress.

The editing of “Spontaneous” could have been improved somewhat in the last third of the story, when some self-destructive things that Mara does get repetitive and tend to drag down the pacing of the movie. However, the tender romance between Mara and Dylan is very easy to like and is by far the best part of the movie. Langford and Plummer’s chemistry together is warm, funny and absolutely enjoyable to watch. They both give very good performances in the movie—not the type that will win major awards, but the type that will be used as examples of how to act in a genre-bending teen comedy.

“Spontaneous” does not skimp on the gore, so people who are easily nauseated by the sight of blood might want to steer clear of watching this movie. Even without the spontaneous combustion and all the bloody scenes, the message of “Spontaneous” is loud and clear: Life can be messy. You can either be afraid or live each day as if it’s your last.

Paramount Pictures released “Spontaneous” in select U.S. cinemas on October 2, 2020, and on digital and VOD on October 6, 2020.

Review: ‘Words on Bathroom Walls,’ starring Charlie Plummer, Taylor Russell, Andy Garcia, Beth Grant, Molly Parker and Walton Goggins

August 22, 2020

by Carla Hay

Taylor Russell and Charlie Plummer in “Words on Bathroom Walls” (Photo by Jacob Yakob/LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions)

“Words on Bathroom Walls”

Directed by Thor Freudenthal

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the romantic drama “Words on Bathroom Walls” has a predominantly white cast (with some Latinos and African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A high-school senior with schizophrenia wants to go to culinary school to become a chef, and he has a hard time dealing with the stigma of his mental illness, which he hides from a fellow student who’s his secret crush.

Culture Audience: “Words on Bathroom Walls” will appeal mostly to people who like movies about young love, but some of the movie’s occasionally trite or hokey way of portraying mental illness might offend or frustrate viewers.

Charlie Plummer and Andy Garcia in “Words on Bathroom Walls” (Photo by Jacob Yakob/LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions)

In romantic dramas about high-school students, the biggest problems that the students usually face are issues about academics, sports or popularity among their peers. “Words on Bathroom Walls” goes deep into the serious issue of mental illness by having its narrator/protagonist struggling with schizophrenia, which causes problems for him at home and at school. Directed by Thor Freudenthal and written by Nick Naveda (based on the novel by Julia Walton), “Words on Bathroom Walls” makes a sincere effort to portray this psychiatric disorder with respect, but the results sometime veer into the type of hokey territory that is seen all too-often in teen dramas.

The movie’s most ludicrous and melodramatic moments are elevated by the above-average performances by Charlie Plummer and Taylor Russell, who play the would-be teen couple at the center of the story. Without the acting talent of these two stars, “Words on Bathroom Walls” would be on par with the lower-quality “disease of the week” story that is usually made for mediocre television shows. The movie also has some witty dialogue which is much better than some of the contrived, unrealistic situations in the story.

It’s clear from the beginning of the movie that Adam Petrazelli (played by Plummer) has been living with mental illness (which includes having delusions) for a while, but he has more recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia, which includes having delusions. Adam, who is a senior in high school, lives with his divorced mother Beth (played by Molly Parker) in an unnamed U.S. city. (The movie was actually filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina.)

Adam loves to cook, and his career goal is to become a professional chef, but he worries about how his mental illness will affect his chances to reach that goal. Early on in the movie, Adam comments in a voiceover about his awareness that he had schizophrenia: “What I would’ve given for a classic case of glaucoma, because soon after, I started hearing the voices.”

Adam doesn’t just hear voices. He also sees three fictional people who are part of his hallucinations and who become his imaginary companions/advisors when he’s going through a schizophrenic episode. Joaquin (played by Devon Bostick) is a guy in his late teens whom Adam describes as being like “the horny best friend in a ‘90s teen movie following you around.” Rebecca (played by AnnaSophia Robb) is a neo-hippie type in her 20s who likes to spread optimism and positive vibes. Bodyguard (played by Lobo Sebastian) is a rough-looking, tracksuit-wearing protector in his 30s who carries around a baseball bat and other weapons. Bodyguard doesn’t hesitate to get violent if he thinks Adam is in danger. Occasionally, some of Bodyguard’s friends (who wear similar tracksuits) also show up to do some damage.

Adam is the type of teenager who speaks like he’s about 10 years older than his real age. In a voiceover, he asks: “How hard could it be to hide my burgeoning insanity from the unforgiving ecosystem that is high school?” Adam is keeping his mental illness a secret from the people at his public high school, but it’s a secret that was exposed in an incident that led to him being diagnosed with schizophrenia. This incident is shown in a flashback scene.

While attending a chemistry class, Adam had a disturbing psychotic break in which he hallucinated that the Bodyguard and his friends were destroying the classroom. The imaginary mayhem caused Adam to accidentally strike out at his acquaintance/lab partner Todd (played by Aaron Domingues), who was severely burned when a container of chemicals accidentally spilled on his arm. This incident led to Adam being expelled from school and shunned by Todd, who hangs out with a group of school bullies who taunt Adam with insults about his mental illness.

Adam’s expulsion from school comes at a very tricky time for him because he’s applying to go to culinary school, and he won’t be eligible without a high-school diploma. And something else has happened in his life that he’s not happy about: His mother Beth has started dating a man named Paul (played by Walton Goggins), and the relationship has become serious enough that Paul has moved into the family home. Paul and Beth are very much in love, and Paul makes it clear to Adam that he’s in the relationship for the long haul.

Adam tries to keep his emotional distance from Paul, who is willing to help Beth with the responsibilities of caring for a schizophrenic child. Adam and Beth have no relationship with Adam’s father, who abandoned the family years ago. Later in the story, Adam gets some news about his family that makes him feel even more insecure about his mental illness and how it affects the close emotional bond that he’s had with his mother.

Beth is the type of mother who goes overboard in trying to find ways that Adam can be “cured” of his schizophrenia. She has dozens of books and magazine articles, she spends hours poring over information on the Internet, and she’s heavily involved in online support communities for parents of schizophrenic children. Beth’s devotion to Adam is indisputable, but the movie demonstrates that her overzealousness in helping Adam is almost to a fault, because it’s with the expectation that all her efforts will lead to Adam eventually being “cured.” It’s why Beth pushes for Adam to starting taking a prescribed experimental drug that could help with his schizophrenia.

Since there’s no cure for schizophrenia at this time, the best that schizophrenic people can do is try to manage their mental illness. If they are fortunate enough to be under a doctor’s care, the treatment usually means that the patients have to take prescribed medication. When the medication works and the patient feels better, the vicious circle comes when the patient thinks the medication is no longer needed, the patient stops taking the medication, and then the worst symptoms of the mental illness come back again. The movie depicts Adam being caught up in this frustrating and emotionally debilitating cycle.

Beth is able to get Adam enrolled on short notice in a Catholic school that accepts Adam as a student, on the condition that Adam maintain a 3.5 GPA, score above 90% on the school’s annual benchmark exam, and give monthly updates on his psychiatric treatment. During an enrollment meeting that Beth, Paul and Adam have with the school’s stern but compassionate principal Sister Catherine (played by Beth Grant), Adam hallucinates that Sister Catherine’s head catches on fire, and the fire spreads throughout the entire room.

At his new school, Adam is predictably a loner whose socially awkward and introverted nature makes it difficult for him to make new friends. The students, who mostly come from privileged families, aren’t exactly welcoming. Adam is also an “outsider” because he’s not Catholic and he isn’t religious. Therefore, when the school’s students attend Catholic services, he cannot participate.

On his first day at school, when Adam is in the men’s room, he sees a fellow student paying a female student named Maya Arnez (played by Russell) in exchange for homework that she did for him. (This men’s room later becomes the place where Adam hallucinates messages on the walls—hence, the title of this story.)

The way that Adam looks at Maya, it’s obvious that he’s attracted to her, but he nervously bungles his first conversation with her. Maya later strikes up a conversation with him over lunch in the school’s cafeteria. It’s during this conversation that they both find out that they share a similar quirky sense of humor where they like to poke fun at some of life’s absurdities.

It turns out that Maya is in her senior year too, and she’s a star pupil at the school: She’s an “A” student who’s the student-body president, and she’s gotten early acceptance into Duke University. Maya also proudly tells Adam that she fully expects to be chosen as the class valedictorian.

Maya might want the traditional honor of being the class valedictorian, but she sees herself as enough of a nonconformist that she looks down on another high-school tradition: She doesn’t believe in the prom, and she doesn’t want to go. Adam finds out about Maya’s dislike of prom activities during their cafeteria conversation, when Maya abruptly brushes off a female student who approaches her about being involved in the prom committee.

Taylor explains to Adam, “I choose not to affiliate myself with patriarchal norms like prom.” It’s that this point in the movie, considering this is a teen romance story, that you know that there will definitely be a scene where Maya is at the school’s prom. Adam doesn’t mind the idea of going to the school’s prom. If he does go, it’s very obvious he only wants to go with Maya as his date.

When Adam asks Maya about why she would risk her status and reputation in the school to help other students cheat, she says that the money she makes is a “side hustle” for her. Because Adam now knows that Maya will accept money to help other students get better grades, he offers to hire her to be his math tutor, since math is one of his weakest subjects and he needs to maintain a 3.5 GPA.

At first, Maya is reluctant to help Adam because she says the pay rate he cites is too low for her. But Maya changes her mind when Adam invites Maya over to dinner at his home and she meets Beth, who tells Maya the amount she can afford to pay her to tutor Adam, and Maya accepts the amount.

These tutoring sessions lead to Adam and Maya becoming closer, but he’s afraid to tell her about his schizophrenia. Several times, Maya senses that something is wrong with Adam, but every time she asks him what’s wrong, he lies and makes up excuses, such as he’s just tired, or he has a headache condition, or he’s having a bad day.

Meanwhile, Maya has a big secret of her own that she hasn’t told Adam. She goes to great lengths to lie and cover up this secret. When the secret is revealed, it isn’t too surprising because a major clue was there from the start of Adam and Maya’s first meeting.

“Words on Bathroom Walls” has a subplot of Adam establishing a friendly rapport with the school’s chief priest Father Patrick (played by Andy Garcia), who counsels Adam during confessionals, even though Adam tells Father Patrick up front that he’s not Catholic. Father Patrick can see that Adam is troubled, and he’s aware of Adam’s psychiatric problems, but Father Patrick doesn’t push the issue with Adam and seems to accept Adam for who he is.

The last third of the movie has a lot of melodrama that’s typical of a teen romance movie, but with the added element of schizophrenia. Parker and Goggins give solid performances as the main parental figures in the story. However, Adam and Maya’s budding romance is the main draw of this movie, which goes in a lot of the expected directions for this adolescent love story. Fortunately, Plummer and Russell (who was a standout in the 2019 drama “Waves”) give very believable and emotionally genuine performances.

At times, “Words on Bathroom Walls” seems to use schizophrenia as merely just another plot device in the obligatory “obstacle/secret” that most romantic stories have to create conflict for the story’s couple. At other times, the movie does a fairly good job of portraying the frustration and loneliness that schizophrenics must feel when experiencing a delusional world that only they can see.

Some of the movie’s schizophrenic visual effects are a bit heavy-handed, but it’s to make a point that these delusions aren’t just quiet little thoughts that go away just by closing your eyes and trying to think of something else. “Words on Bathroom Walls” has some very formulaic ways of portraying the story’s teen romance, but the admirable performances from Plummer and Russell improve the quality of the film so that it’s not an ordinary teen movie.

LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions released “Words on Bathroom Walls” in select U.S. cinemas on August 21, 2020.

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