‘Turtles All the Way Down’ Movie Review: Navigating OCD and Teen Struggles with Care and Sensitivity

Directed by Hannah Marks (Don’t Make Me Go) and written by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (Love, Simon), Turtles All the Way Down is the adaptation of John Green’s novel of the same title. It tells the story of Aza Holmes (Isabela Merced), a teenager who strives to be a good daughter, friend, and student while grappling with a relentless barrage of invasive, obsessive thoughts she can’t control. As she reconnects with her childhood crush, Davis (Felix Mallard), Aza is confronted with fundamental questions about her potential for love, happiness, friendship, and hope.

I particularly appreciate this synopsis because I’ve noticed many variations on different platforms that focus on some sort of background subplot in an attempt to dupe viewers’ expectations. Turtles All the Way Down is a young-adult romantic drama with a typical coming-of-age central arc, not a mystery about a missing billionaire, despite the fact that the film does indeed have some issues with this narrative context, which is rather strange for the deeply personal, intimate, thematically rich story it develops.

The Reality of OCD in Turtles All the Way Down

Aza is the protagonist, who suffers from OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). In her particular case, her mind spirals into chaotic loops of existential questions related to microorganisms and human beings, leading to uneasy, anxious moments that perfectly demonstrate the tremendous frustration and total lack of control that overwhelm some people with this condition. Turtles All the Way Down is an excellent lesson about a mental disorder that, over the years, has been dangerously oversimplified – many believe that OCD is nothing more than people with a fetish for extreme organization, like sorting red and blue pens into separate containers.

The movie avoids the trap of trying to find a universal source for this condition, let alone an easy solution to an evidently complex problem. Turtles All the Way Down takes remarkable care in approaching this sensitive topic, demonstrating how OCD can severely affect the most basic human relationships and daily interactions with the world that surrounds us. Even the connection with the title holds a rich, crucial meaning for the protagonist, who also deals with the fact that she lost her father when she was younger.

Aza’s Struggle for Love and Friendship

From not being sure if she can truly be independent or feel her mother’s support to the inevitable distractions that prevent her from being a more caring daughter and friend, Turtles All the Way Down takes Aza on a truly interesting journey of personal discovery, capable of touching on several complicated areas of a teenager’s life. Convincing performances from the cast, notably the incredibly natural relationship between Merced (Dora and the Lost City of Gold) and Cree (The Sleepover) – who plays best friend Daisy – elevate the film far beyond expectations, including with some surprisingly powerful monologues… and thankfully so, because it’s not without its issues.

While the development of the relationship between the best friends is not only captivating but genuinely feels real, I can’t share the same feeling towards the romance between Aza and Davis, and the mystery surrounding the latter’s missing father is part of the reason why. Turtles All the Way Down embeds its characters in relationships so dynamically human that having this lingering question about what happened to a character irrelevant to the overall narrative not only detracts focus from the main romance but also unnecessarily casts doubt on it. The other part is more related to simply not feeling the same connection with Aza and Davis as I did with Aza and Daisy. With the friendship, I felt such an authentic immersion that I forgot I was was watching a movie. With the ‘couple’, the interactions seem more forced and dramatized simply because they have to be.

Overall, Turtles All the Way Down suffers from structural predictability and cliches typical of these types of stories, but nothing that hinders an enjoyable home viewing experience with an ideal blend of entertainment and education. A final remark to Ian Hultquist’s (Dickinson) simple yet sweet score.

Final Thoughts on Turtles All The Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down stands out as a complex, engaging, thematically rich story of self-discovery. Through the convincing performances of the cast, Hannah Marks offers an authentic, immersive portrayal of the daily struggles of those suffering from OCD, and although it fails to overcome structural predictability and the less convincing development of the main romance, it conveys important lessons about this particular disorder, as well as about mental health and human relationships. A balance of entertainment and reflection that I recommend to viewers seeking a touching, educational home cinema session.


Turtles All The Way Down is now streaming on MAX.

Learn more about the film on the official website.

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