Words on Bathroom Walls (2020 Film) Review – Everyone’s Flawed!


Teenage dramas have their own potency and vigor to deal with mental illness plots. It could arguably be okay to tone down the seriousness of it because otherwise, the story might become humorless and boring. To lift up the hilarity, often a romantic angle is approached. A 2012 coming of age film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, had the same blend where Charlie suffering from a mental illness, was connected with the need for attachment and future goal. A teenager’s life, thus, is much more complicated than it is portrayed on screen. Words on Bathroom Walls (Film) showcases the life of one such young boy, suffering from Schizophrenia.

Directed by Thor Freudenthal, Words on Bathroom Walls (Film) is based on the book of the same name, written by Julia Walton. The screenplay is written by Nick Nevada, that balances the tragedy and humor of a Schizophrenic Teen boy, Adam Petruzelli (Charlie Plummer). The story is narrated by Adam, who talks to the camera, which is placed in a psychiatrist room. Thus, symbolically Adam’s psychiatrist is the audience itself, who is going to witness his story.

The Story

There is nothing right with Adam Petrizelli’s life. Adam’s father left his mom, Beth (Molly Parker), when he was very young and the absence of a father, always haunted him. Adam, now, 16 is diagnosed with a chronic mental disorder in which a person loses touch with reality. His mind brings up visual and auditory hallucinations in the form of 4 imaginary characters, a zen girl, A hot head bodyguard, a horny best friend, and a dark cloud with a voice he fears the most.

Due to the regular interruption and chaos by this dark cloud voice, Adam gets delusional and burns a class mate’s hand in the chemistry class. Adam is instantly expelled from school. He tries to concentrate on his future to become a chef but for that, he needs a college degree. Adam’s parents, Beth and step-father, Paul (Walton Goggins) try their best to get Adam admitted to a Catholic School, on the condition that Adam will have to continue his medication.

Adam agrees to give it a try. In the new school, Adam meets the school’s valedictorian, Maya Arnaz, who finishes other people’s projects to earn extra bucks. Adam finds Maya interesting and their friendship leads to infatuation. But the new medication Adam was consuming, generates unwanted reactions in his body, that comes in between his passion and Maya. How Adam deals with this conflict is explored further in the story.

Spoilers Ahead

Mental Illness in a Nutshell

Coming of Age drama novels or films explore a serious subject matter, like cancer or mental illness, in a non-serious tone, yet without compromising the depth of it. Like, The Fault in Our Stars had a cancer centric story, but yet it was not heavy, emotionally or intellectually. Words on Bathroom Walls (Film) is the toned-down version of A Beautiful Mind.

However, the narrative does not completely ignore the illness or use it as story bait. It has underlined the consequences and tragedy of mental illness and how a teenager suffering with it, is often unable to communicate the effects, which makes the illness more dangerous. Additionally, it points out the popular notion regarding mental illness where most people ignore it or label it as “nothing serious” when in reality, it is equally dangerous like any other physical illness.

A similar theme is explored in a scene, where Adam talks to the camera/psychiatrist.

“When you are a Cancer Kid, people can’t wait to flock to your aid and are so eager to grant any wish you have before you die. But when you have schizophrenia, people can’t wait to make you someone else’s problem. That’s why we end up on the streets, screaming at nothing, waiting to die.”

It isn’t a comparison to any physical illness or comment on people suffering from it, but a remark that mental illness needs to be taken as seriously as any threatening illness. If the problem isn’t visible, that doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous, and thus people should really need to change their attitude towards mental illnesses.

The exploration of this opinion through a teenage protagonist helps better, because adults are still vocable about their problems, whereas growing teens often tend to hide things. They feel that no one really understands them, not even their parents, and the same happens with Adam itself. He is trapped in a chaos mind.

When in the climax, Adam’s old age friend, Father Patrick, a priest from the school church visits him and converse the same, that Adam should accept his flaws and be vocal about it. His own self-realization and self-acceptance will lead to acceptance by others as well, maybe not instantly, but someday.

“Everyone Is flawed. But admitting our flaws, that gives us the opportunity and strength to face them. That is why we confess.”

Hence, Words on Bathroom Walls (Film) leaves you with a message in the end, that we shouldn’t be in denial with our own former self.

Title Explained

The name of the film, “Words on Bathroom Walls” has not much to do with the subject matter, but it signifies Adam’s fear of ending up on bathroom walls. A bathroom wall is considered a dumb space for school kids where they make fun of abnormal kids, like Adam or Maya. Adam is always skeptical not to end up there, and thus, he hides his mental illness from everyone in the new school.

Words on Bathroom Walls (Film) explores many other themes through Maya (Taylor Russell), Adam’s crush in the new school. Maya, even, being a scholar, has her own doubts and conflicts. She lives a dual life, just like Adam but her hidden life is not as grave as Adam. However, point being, when two people are suffering from a similar conflict, it paves way for an easy connection between them, which is visible in Adam-Maya relationship.

Words on Bathroom Walls (Film) is an easy-going, easily digestible coming of age drama. It has its own share of drama and humor that keeps you engaged. Adam’s imagery characters add humor in the scene that is brilliantly supported by cinematography and visual effects. The film has a real clean and nice tone that makes it appealing to eyes. Anyone, who is a fan of films like Perks of Being a Wallflower or Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, or similar titles, can surely check Words on Bathroom Walls (Film). Though it isn’t as memorable as the titles mentioned above, yet it is going to leave a similar impact.

Words on Bathroom Walls (Film) is available for Video on Demand.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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