A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Promotes inclusion, destigmatization of mental illness, compassion, empathy, perseverance. Encourages honesty and vulnerability in friendship, romantic, and family relationships. Depicts faith and therapy as positive support systems for people, especially those in crisis or in need.
Positive Role Models
Adam is intelligent, curious, kind. He's thoughtful and devoted to his single mother -- if a bit jealous when she begins a serious relationship. He's loyal, encouraging to Maya, wants to spare her what he believes are difficulties of being with someone who has mental illness. Maya is brilliant, ambitious, hard-working (although she does write rich students' papers for pay). She's also cautious about revealing her scholarship-student status and her working-class upbringing -- just like Adam doesn't disclose his diagnosis. Adam's mother is completely focused on Adam and his well-being; she tries everything to help him. Not a lot of racial diversity, although both Father Patrick and Maya are presented as Latinx.
Violence & Scariness
In opening scene, Adam explains how he began to have visual and auditory hallucinations that led to a psychotic break in which he accidentally spilled a beaker of acid onto his friend/lab partner in chemistry class. The scene is disturbing, as Adam wrestles with his visions and is then subdued by school security, while his friend cries in agony. Adam later pushes an administrator (a nun) when he's in a manic state, and scares his mom and stepfather by yelling at them. A verbal fight between Adam and former classmates leads to pushing and Maya throwing a punch.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Intense flirting, hand-holding, some kissing/making out by teens, as well as embracing by adult couple who reveal they're expecting a baby. Joaquin is described as your "horny BFF" and tries to give Adam advice on how to "get laid."
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Occasional strong language includes "s--t," "bulls--t," "s--t sandwich," one use of "f--king," "crazy," "stupid," "d--k," "freak," "straitjacket," "kinda weird," etc.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adam is on serious prescription meds, which he purposely stops taking. Adults drink (in the background) at meals. Brief scene of smoking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Words on Bathroom Walls is an adaptation of Julia Walton's 2017 YA novel about a high school senior who's diagnosed with schizophrenia, expelled from public school, and then transfers to a Catholic school where no one knows about his past. Directed by Thor Freudenthal, the movie should appeal to fans of realistic teen dramas like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Spectacular Now, Five Feet Apart, and Everything, Everything. It sensitively depicts the challenges of living with a mental illness, the fear of stigma and bullying, and the importance of honesty and empathy in relationships. There's occasional (but not frequent) strong language, including "s--t," "freak," "straitjacket," etc. (as well as one use of "f--k"). Romantic content focuses more on emotion than on physical action, but there's a bit of flirting, dancing, and making out. There's some cigarette smoking, too, as well as a lot of prescription medication. A few scenes of violence, mostly related to an incident in which a character accidentally spills a beaker of acid onto his friend/lab partner in chemistry class, are upsetting but not graphic. Families will have plenty to discuss after the movie, from mental illness and blended families to class and nontraditional career paths. Charlie Plummer (Looking for Alaska) and Taylor Russell (Waves) star. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
A cynic might see this as another sick-kid YA drama, but thanks to a talented ensemble, this coming-of-age film is about more than mental illness and gives agency to the person with a diagnosis. Freudenthal, working off a screen adaptation by Peter McNulty, depicts Adam's schizophrenia as a sort of living Inside Out, with the three characters personifying different personality traits. It's a relatable way to approach the topic and in keeping with the book (with some tweaks that work better on-screen). Plummer and Russell -- who were both wonderful in Looking for Alaska and Waves, respectively -- give nuanced and powerful performances as Adam and Maya. Their friendship and then relationship aren't based on a terminal-illness urgency or any typical high school cliché.
Like many teen films, Words on Bathroom Walls has a compelling soundtrack, this time courtesy of Grammy-winning EDM duo The Chainsmokers, who composed their first film score for the movie. The pulsing beats mirror Adam's emotions and stand out particularly when he's happy (cooking, with Maya or his mom) or upset. And the adult supporting cast is almost unexpectedly good for such small roles. Props to the filmmakers for portraying the close bond between Adam and his mom and for tackling the nuanced difficulties of creating a blended family. Parker is always wonderful, and it's a pleasure to see Goggins, so at ease with heavies and scoundrels, playing a truly good guy. Words on Bathroom Walls continues to show that Hollywood is much better at turning out quality adaptations of contemporary, realistic-fiction young adult literature than the much harder to capture sci-fi/fantasy adventures.
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