Take 3: Words on Bathroom Walls Review

Rebecca from Taking Up Room has great blogathon ideas, hence why these events are so fun to participate in! The latest event, The Fake Teenager Festivus Blogathon, is no exception. For this blogathon, participants are asked to pick a movie or show featuring young adults, older teenagers, or older adults who have portrayed teenagers. As soon as I read the blogathon rules, I immediately thought of Charlie Plummer’s portrayal of Adam in Words on Bathroom Walls. Charlie was born in 1999, which means by the time of the film’s release in 2020, he was 21 years old. Words on Bathroom Walls is about a high school senior with Schizophrenia. I first started talking about this film in 2019, when I mentioned it in my Book Adaptation Tag post. In my Movie Blogger’s Christmas Wish List that year, I wished the film would receive a distributor, a studio that would release the movie. When the film received a distributor and release date the following year, I meant to get around to watching the movie. With Rebecca’s blogathon, I have an excuse to finally review Words on Bathroom Walls!

Words on Bathroom Walls poster created by LD Entertainment, Kick the Habit Productions, and Roadside Attractions

Things I liked about the film:

Interactions between characters: When it comes to interactions among characters, they are only as good as the actors and actresses portraying those characters. In the Words on Bathroom Walls adaptation, the cast was strong, which allowed their characters’ interactions to appear believable! The interactions between Adam and Maya serve as one example. Adam’s friend, Maya, comes over to his house to tutor him. When she enters Adam’s room, Maya discovers his collection of cookbooks. This leads to a verbal match, both Adam and Maya sharing their greatest achievements in good fun. Throughout the film, Charlie Plummer portrays Adam with a laid-back personality. Taylor Russell brings to life Maya’s studiousness, direct, and confident demeanor. Their interactions showcase how Adam’s and Maya’s personality are compatible, despite the fact they are the opposite of one another.

Seeing what’s in Adam’s mind: In the Words on Bathroom Walls book, Adam goes into detail how his Schizophrenia diagnosis impacts him and his world. His honesty about his diagnosis gives the story a sense of realism. But with Words on Bathroom Walls being adapted into a movie, the story gained the opportunity to visually present what goes on in Adam’s mind. At various moments of the story, Adam sees three people, who are his hallucinations. When he starts a new medication, these hallucinations begin to disappear. But the way their disappearance happens on screen looks like a technological glitch, a slow and steady process instead of instantaneous. This not only gave the audience something interesting to look at, it allowed them to gain some understanding into Adam’s experiences.

Breaking the fourth wall: Adam’s story in the Words on Bathroom Walls book is presented through the notes of a therapist. This literary approach made the story feel like Adam was speaking directly with the reader, as if he was having a private conversation with them. Adam’s therapy sessions are included in the adaptation. Because these sessions are only shown in certain parts of the film, they give Adam the opportunity to break the fourth wall. These moments still contain the honesty, emotion, and even humor I came to like about the book. The fourth wall being broken felt reminiscent of the book’s direct storytelling. This translation between adaptation and source material worked in the story’s favor!

The Fake Teenager Festivus Blogathon banner created by Rebecca from Taking Up Room

What I didn’t like about the film:

Father Patrick’s inconsistent presence: Father Patrick is a movie exclusive character in Words on Bathroom Walls. He serves as a mentor figure to Adam, giving him advice and words of wisdom. I liked this dynamic between these characters, as there were no mentor figures at St. Agatha’s Catholic School in the book. However, Father Patrick only appeared in about four scenes total. I wish he had appeared in some more scenes, especially since the character himself was so well written and acted.

Adam’s limited perspective on Catholicism: One of the best parts of the Words on Bathroom Walls book was Adam’s perspective on Catholicism. In the story, Adam attends St. Agatha’s Catholic School, despite his decision to not adopt the religion. Reading Adam’s thoughts on Catholicism provided an insight that isn’t often included in stories featuring religious affiliated schools. In the adaptation, Adam’s perspective on Catholicism was featured. But its inclusion was so limited, it was watered down, compared to the book.

Toned down humor: What makes Adam such a likable character in Words on Bathroom Walls is his sense of humor. Julia Walton, the author of the book, gives the protagonist a drier sense of humor that contains a hint of sarcasm. However, Adam’s sense of humor was never depicted as mean-spirited or disrespectful. What Julia also does is provide a good balance between a humorous and serious tone. The adaptation prioritizes the story’s serious tone instead of trying to achieve the aforementioned balance. I know that mental illness/Schizophrenia is a topic that shouldn’t be taken lightly. But I think that balance between seriousness and humor was better executed in the book.

Since I’m finally reviewing Words on Bathroom Walls, featuring a screenshot of the book cover is in order! Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

My overall impression:

No matter how good or bad an adaptation is, there are bound to be changes between text and visual piece of entertainment. Words on Bathroom Walls is no exception to this, as I noticed several changes among both media. But despite these changes, the Words on Bathroom Walls adaptation was, more often than not, respectful to its source material. This is one of the reasons why I liked this film! The strength of the cast’s acting abilities worked in the movie’s favor. It allowed believable interactions between the characters. Interesting film-making techniques were incorporated into the project, such as the special effects. This enhanced the visual presentation of what goes on in Adam’s mind. Looking back on this movie, it seems like it is one of the more underrated adaptations. Why that is, I have no idea.

Overall score: 8.3 out of 10

Have you seen or read Words on Bathroom Walls? Are there any adaptations you’d like me to see and/or read? Let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen