Words on Bathroom Walls

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Words on Bathroom Walls Movie Poster Image
Thoughtful YA adaptation has talented cast, heavy themes.
  • PG-13
  • 2020
  • 111 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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

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.

Sex

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."

Language

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.

Consumerism
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. 

What 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.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMeredith22 September 19, 2020

Beautiful, Moving Adaption of the Book

I read the book of the same title a few weeks ago and was drawn in with the unique writing style and heartwarming characters. Adam's story means a lot to m... Continue reading
Adult Written byRenesmee103090 August 24, 2020

Good

Very sweet
Teen, 16 years old Written byNadia Cloud August 23, 2020

Unique and enjoyable teen drama!

Words on Bathroom Walls is a very unique because it centers around a character with schizophrenia. I recommend this for ages 13 and up because of language and s... Continue reading

What's the story?

WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS is adapted from the same-titled 2017 YA novel by Julia Walton about Adam Petrazelli (Charlie Plummer). Adam is a senior whose dreams of culinary school and a typical high school experience are cut short when he experiences auditory and visual hallucinations personified by a few different people in his head -- Rebecca (AnnaSophia Robb), who's zen boho chic; Joaquin (Devon Bostick), who's all hedonistic id; Bodyguard (Lobo Sebastian), who's always up for a fight; and Darkness, who spreads self-destructive and suicidal thoughts. After Adam has an episode at school, accidentally hurts his classmate, and is diagnosed with schizophrenia, he transfers to a Catholic school for his final semester of senior year, where classmates don't know his medical history. In order to enroll, Adam must stay on his experimental meds and meet a high GPA and standardized test score requirement. At school, Adam meets outspoken and brilliant Maya (Taylor Russell) and enlists her to tutor him. He also opens up to the school's priest, Father Patrick (Andy Garcia), during weekly confession. Soon, the meds make Adam's voices stop, but they also make him feel depressed, all while his supportive single mother (Molly Parker) gets closer to a new partner (Walton Goggins). 

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. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the various secrets people keep in Words on Bathroom Walls. Why do you think Adam and Maya had difficulty being completely honest and vulnerable with each other? 

  • Is there a stigma associated with having a mental illness? Why? Is it worse among teenagers? What can we do to combat shaming those with mental illness?

  • Talk about the scenes of bullying and other violent behavior (and thoughts) in the movie. How is it portrayed? Does realistic violence make a different impact than stylized or fantasy violence?

  • Which characters are role models? What examples of compassion, empathy, and perseverance do you see in the movie?

  • Talk about the role of faith and connection in the scenes between Father Patrick and Adam. Why is their relationship important? 

Movie details

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