[REVIEW] ‘Words on Bathroom Walls’: #EndtheStigma

jen and I

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well and getting through these tough times as smoothly as possible. I know it is impossible for some people to go to an indoor theater and I know some of you think I am crazy for doing so but we are basically open for new movies here in Utah and I’m here for it! (I fully support anyone who has chosen to not attend a movie theater btw). I have insured I have my mask on during the entire screening, have the back row so nobody is behind me, sit on the aisle so nobody is to the left of me and have typically had almost the whole theater to myself. I understand this is not enough safety with santization and cleanliness but it is for me.

All that said, I was able to go to a new movie with my friend Jen, who is my #1 movie buddy. This is our second time to the theater since quarantine and the first time we got to have one of our big epic chats at the end of it. I missed those sooooo much! It was so good for the soul.

The film that brought us back to the theaters is the coming of age story Words on Bathroom Walls (yes, the name is stupid).

Before I write this review I want to make it clear that my knowledge of schizophrenia is limited and I tried to find some reviews of this movie (or even the book) from the perspecitve of a person with schizophrenia and I was unsuccessful. My perspective is purely an outsider pov and how I think the movie encouraged a discussion on the topic.

Words on Bathroom Walls is based on a novel by Julia Walton and it tells the story of a teen named Adam who starts to hear voices and see personalities around him. There’s a chill New Age girl, an angry bodyguard and a slick cool guy. All these voices fight for his attention along with his love interest Maya (Taylor Russell) and single Mom (Molly Parker) and step-Dad Paul (Walton Goggins). Andy Garcia also appears as the priest at the new Catholic school Adam begins attending after he faces with some bullying at his public school.

The first thing that really works in Words in Bathroom Walls is Charlie Plummer’s performance. He is without a doubt one of the best young actors we have today and if you need proof of that watch him in the criminally overlooked Lean on Pete, which was one of my favorite movies of 2018. He was great as Pete but he’s also great as Adam, showing the anger, frustration and sweet sides of his personality making you invested in his character and anxious for him to get the help he needs.


That’s the other positive trait of this movie- it gets viewers especially teens talking about mental illness and working to END THE STIGMA. In the film Adam asks his shrink why when someone gets a disease like cancer everyone is kind and understanding but if someone gets a mental illness like schizophrenia they back away in fear? This is wrong and we needrt to tell the stories of those with all kinds of mental illness especially when it comes to teens who can be so lonely and confused. It needs to stop and we need to provide better health care in this country for those that are dealing with a chronic or crisis mental health condition.

Where Words on Bathroom Walls is a weaker is the last act that feels uncomfortable in ending with any kind of uncertainty. All the characters have to be made nice (although one moment had me crying on my mask but I won’t spoil it for you). All the challenges have to be overcome and that definitely feels a little too tidy for the realism of the rest of the movie. On the other hand, it’s hard to overly fault a movie for being too hopeful and trying to inspire its audience too much, so I’m inclined to be forgiving.

It also felt like some of the depictions of the schizophrenia in the film are a little sensationalized for dramatic effect. Again, I don’t know this for a fact but I remember when  A Beautiful Mind came out some people with schizophrenia said that movie didn’t capture the experience very well and I have a feeling they’d have the same complaints here but if anyone can provide further insight in that regard I would love to learn more.

All that said, if you have teenagers I recommend watching Words on Bathroom Walls and having a discussion about Adam and his struggles. What can we do to end the stigma and make things better for those with a mental illness? As someone who has faced panic attacks this is extremely important to me so this movie really hit a chord with me even with its flaws. If you get a chance to see it I recommend it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

By the way if you want to get a smile worthy mask like I am wearing in the photo check out the merch store

smile worthy

Reader Zach reached out to me and we talked about schizophrenia and how it was portrayed in this film


Rocks in My Pockets: A Review

rocks in pockets4 One of my goals this year is to watch the hidden animated films of 2014.  I have already reviewed Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart, Wrinkles, Miniscule: the Valley of the Lost Ant, and Tale of Princess Kaguya.  I am planning on seeing Song of the Sea this weekend so look for that review to be coming.  All these smaller films have been beautifully animated with unique stories you won’t get from the major studio.  I highly recommend taking a look at the reviews and finding the film that looks the most interesting to you.

Today we are going to talk about the adult animated film Rocks in My Pockets.  This is an extremely challenging film and it is definitely not for everyone but I’m glad I saw it.


It is the work of Latvian artist Signe Baumane and it is practically a one woman show.  She writes, directs, animates the entire film.  She even provides the narration which is problematic as she is clearly not a native English speaker and it comes off very robotic. At first I actually thought it was a computer translator not a person.

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The animated Signe

Rocks in My Pockets is the tale of Signe’s family history of mental illness.  It is done using hand drawn and paper mache stop motion.  It is brutal, disturbing, vulgar and upsetting at times.  That’s why I say it is definitely not for everyone but I also found it moving, raw, honest and beautiful in the way disturbing art can be.

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She starts with the story of her Grandmother who tried to commit suicide in a river but did not have rocks in her pockets so she failed in her attempt.  I don’t know if I’ve seen a movie that so accurately describes the panic, madness, and strange peace that happens inside the heads of those dealing with mental illness.  I have never had that serious of an incident but I have had panic attacks so I related to all her descriptions.

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In the former Soviet block nation of Latvia the psychiatrist hands out pills, mainly valium or puts the mentally ill in an insane asylum; thereby either trying to dull or hide the problem.  We have come a long way in a sense but we still have a long way to go on the stigma and treatment of mental illness in America today.

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Signe then tells the stories of 4 of her cousins and  in the most painful segment her own story of  battling schizophrenia.  Like I said it is disturbing and brutal stuff but I was strangely moved by it.  I guess it felt like someone sharing their soul through art and I appreciated that.

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The section on post partum depression was interesting. Signe says it is the ‘legitimate’ mental illness.  I never thought about it but that is really true even if it is still not treated with the weight and importance it should.  There is a very disturbing section where her Grandmother see’s a rabbit eating her own babies and she looks at her 8 children and for a second is envious of the rabbit.

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When Signe has her own baby and it is a transcendent experience for her but it doesn’t make the mania inside her go away it was a very poignant moment.  Her cousins have the same problems wanting to love desperately but feeling unable to do so.

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The animation is gorgeous and constantly daring and surprising the viewer. I loved how it moved and felt like a sketch from inside Signe’s mind.   Since all the stories are about women the female bodies are intentionally drawn in a way so they look nude despite being fully clothed (except for one scene where a back is shown). You get a feeling Signe feels naked while drawing this story and that leads to her visuals.

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With mental illness Hollywood tends to either make the sufferer scary and erratic or loveable and sweet.  Signe does none of that.  She tells their story in all its rawness yet still has great love and sympathy for the characters.  It defies every cliché you could imagine and that moved me.

It is also unafraid to talk about self harm and other destructive techniques of ‘indulging your insanity not fighting it”.  The end of the film she talks about her day to day life and how she has learned to cope with her illness finally summarizing her survival method beautifully.

“I am a working artist.  This is my work in progress.  I have to continue to live to complete it” 

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That’s not to say it is perfect because it’s not.  Signe’s narration is a huge problem.  Like I said it is robotic and very off-putting and since there is no other dialogue that is unfortunate.  I don’t know if we needed to hear about every cousin and Signe and the Grandma. It’s a 126 minute movie, pretty long by animated film standards.  I would have cut it down to 90 minutes.  As it is you leave the experience exhausted.  You are stimulated and maybe even inspired but exhausted.


Signe also doesn’t give us any answers.  She just tells the story but maybe in a way that is the answer? “You will never  be able to walk and talk again without the yellow green and pink pills” said the doctor without giving her a diagnosis. Her sister then says ‘Maybe it’s good to tell everybody so that they know what’s in their genes…It’s in the genes. You were designed to be crazy”

Maybe we just need to let people tell their stories?

Like I said not for everyone but I was moved by it.

The score by Kristian Sensini is also extremely strong and moving.

Overall Grade- B (mainly because the narration is a big stumbling block. If they changed that to a professional actor it would get an A).