Thursday, August 20, 2020

Two teen movies: Coming of age again

A sometimes powerful 'Words on Bathroom Walls'
     If you’ve ever participated in or listened to conversations about movies, you’ve probably never heard anyone say, “Gee, I wish there more coming-of-age movies about teenagers.”
    Such movies haven't exactly been in short supply.
    Words on Bathroom Walls fits the standard profile but with a major exception. It’s about a teenager who suffers from schizophrenia. That means that Adam (Charlie Plummer), the movie’s main character, hallucinates, erupts in violent outbursts, and lives in a world in which he’s constantly accompanied by three imaginary companions.
     Director Thor Freudenthal (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) does a good job depicting the fragmented world in which Adam spends his time. He shows us what's going on in Adam's mind, trying to make it as real for us as it is for him.
     Adam's trio of hallucinatory companions includes sweet young Rebecca (Anna Sophia Robb). A bro-type (Devon Bostick) represents Adam's party side. Adam's bat-wielding buddy (Lobo Sebastian) plays the role of enforcer.
      Freudenthal doesn't flinch from the issues that torment a young person whose dreams may be thwarted by mental illness. Adam aspires to be a chef.
    Tossed from a high school after a violent incident, Adam finds himself in a last-chance situation at a Catholic school where he meets a priest (Andy Garcia) who's religious but tolerant of Adam's lack of belief.
     Adam’s mom (Molly Parker) is hopeful but she's dealing with other major stresses. Adam deeply distrusts his divorced mom’s live-in lover (Walton Goggins ).
     The movie concentrates on the burgeoning relationship between Adam and a whip-smart student (Taylor Russell) who supplements her income by writing school essays for other students.
     Adam keeps his troubles secret as he vacillates between taking his meds (which have a debilitating side effect) and proceeding without chemical intervention.
     Plummer handles all of this without depriving the audience of the sympathy and engagement it needs to stick with Adam.
    The finale involving a prom and a graduation ceremony strains credibility and the screenplay, adapted by  Nick Neveda from a YA novel by Julia Walton,  isn’t difficult to outguess.
    At its best, though, Words on Bathroom Walls contains moments that are sensitively realized and deserves credit for refusing to suggest that every problem disappears at high school graduation.

Chemical Hearts, a tame teen offering
Chemical Hearts, another teen movie, will be available for streaming on Amazon.
     Directed by Richard TanneChemical Hearts focuses on Henry (Austin Abrams), a teenager who edits his high school newspaper and who fancies himself a writer.  A young woman (Lili Reinhart)  reluctantly functions as an assistant editor on the paper. 
    Entirely normal and decent, Henry struggles to break the walls of silence and reserve that surround Reinhart's Grace,  a teen who mangled her knee in an auto accident in which her football star boyfriend was killed.
    Guilt-ridden and wary, Grace gradually allows Henry to become part of her life.
    The title connotes the movie’s principal notion. Romantic love is a chemical reaction, Henry's older sister tells him. At its height, it feels great but when it's taken away from us, we're miserable.
    Tanne creates a high-school environment that allows for a bit of diversity and also includes some of the touchstones of teen life: a Halloween party, for example.
    The movie deserves credit for taking the hurts of adolescence super-seriously but,  at the same time, can seem too eager to turn adolescent angst into something more profound than it really is.
     Whatever the case, Chemical Hearts never breaks the medium-grade ranks of its well-populated genre.

No comments: