John Green Coming-Of-Age Adaptation Excels & Falters At The Same Time


  • Turtles All the Way Down tackles OCD creatively and respectfully.
  • The film’s relationships lack depth, but Aza’s friendship with Daisy stands out.
  • Isabela Merced shines in the film, portraying Aza’s struggles with sincerity.

Ten years ago, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was both a literary and box office sensation, sparking a wave of film and television projects inspired by the author’s books. The fervor surrounding the author has calmed over the years, but there’s still interest in Green’s take on coming-of-age stories, which brings us to Max’s new adaptation of Turtles All the Way Down. Based on his 2017 book of the same name, the Hannah Marks-directed movie arrives with far less fanfare than The Fault in Our Stars did, but I wouldn’t discount it entirely.

It’s not easy being Aza, but she’s trying… trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, and a good student, all while navigating an endless barrage of invasive, obsessive thoughts that she cannot control. When she reconnects with Davis, her childhood crush, Aza is confronted with fundamental questions about her potential for love, happiness, friendship, and hope.


  • The film is quirky, with a strong performance from Isabela Merced
  • The relationship between Aza and Daisy grounds the film
  • Turtles All the Way Down handles mental health well

  • The film’s central romance is thin
  • The rest of the cast could have been more well-rounded

On paper, Turtles All the Way Down is a bit hard to pin down. The trailer plays up its mental health story and the romance, which are definitely focal points in the plot, but there are also broader themes of grief and growing up at play. And also the disappearance of a local billionaire. The quirkiness of that subplot may throw some people off, but underneath its weaker spots, Turtles All the Way Down is bolstered by genuine heart and an excellent central performance from Isabela Merced (Madame Web, Instant Family).

Turtles All The Way Down Tackles OCD In A Respectful & Creative Way

Our protagonist, Aza Holmes (Merced), starts the movie by informing us that our bodies are filled with microbes, which, to her, gives the impression that her body isn’t her own. This is the basis of the anxiety that drives her obsessive-compulsive disorder, that she is filled with tiny things — beings, really — that could infect her and make her horribly sick. Aza frequently falls into all-encompassing thought spirals that leave her dissociating from what’s going on around her, even as life goes on undeterred.

Marks depicts these spirals by tuning out the sound around Aza and employing voiceover narration to bring the character’s whirling thoughts to life. There are also quick cuts to images of wriggling microorganisms (fair warning to those who dislike close-ups of bacteria) and bursts of discordant feedback. The sound alone is enough to put the viewer on edge, giving an effective impression of intrusive thoughts constantly making themselves known. Aza’s thought spirals are dramatic and heightened, but somehow never to the point of feeling sensationalized.



Isabela Merced Teases Turtles All The Way Down & Her Upcoming Superman Role

Turtles All The Way Down star Isabela Merced chats about starring in John Green’s adaptation for Max this summer and joining James Gunn’s Superman.

Through therapy sessions with Dr. Singh (Never Have I Ever‘s Poorna Jagannathan), Aza tries to work through her OCD, but she’s reluctant to take her medication, instead channeling her thoughts into a healing callus on her finger. When things get too hard, she cleans it and changes the bandage. What seems to work at first gradually becomes harder to maintain as Turtles All the Way Down continues, leading to some devastating developments late in the runtime.

Some Of Turtles All The Way Down’s Relationships Lack Depth

Aza Holmes and Davis walk hand in hand, looking into each other's eyes in Turtles All The Way Down
Image via Max

Though most of the movie centers on Aza’s journey, Turtles All the Way Down‘s most straightforward plotline revolves around the disappearance of a billionaire, who likely skipped town to avoid legal charges. The police offer a reward to anyone who has information about the man’s whereabouts, and it just so happens that his son, Davis (Felix Mallard), is Aza’s cherished friend from a summer camp designed to help kids process grief. Both Davis and Aza lost a parent, and through hazy flashbacks set over the opening credits, we’re meant to believe the two formed a strong bond at this camp.

Daisy’s unabashed support of Aza and colorful personality make the dynamic one that we’re eager to watch from the very beginning.

Naturally, their reunion as teenagers almost immediately leads to romantic sparks, which only adds to Aza’s anxieties. She fears kissing someone, since that would lead to a sharing of microbes. Nevertheless, Aza and Davis are drawn together, partially because Aza’s best friend Daisy (Cree) is eager to get the prize money, but also because Davis is eager to reconnect with Aza. It’s a sweet relationship and one that should prove emotionally resonant purely because of the characters’ shared history. Unfortunately, screenwriters Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker don’t effectively establish Aza and Davis’ previous bond, or even Davis himself.

His missing father creates some character depth, but ultimately, Davis is mostly there to yearn for Aza and coax her out of her shell. It’s useful for Aza’s arc, but it doesn’t make the relationship one worth getting invested in. A similar thing happens to Aza’s relationship with her mother Gina (Judy Reyes); we’re told rather than shown the cracks in their dynamic, spurred by Gina’s borderline-overprotective concern for Aza and the prior loss of Aza’s father. Though later scenes between the two characters hit the right amount of growth and emotion, their early interactions feel lopsided and awkwardly placed.



John Green & Turtles All The Way Down Director Hannah Marks On Adaptating With Intent

Director Hannah Marks & author John Green talk about bringing Turtles All The Way Down to life as a new Max original movie and honoring mental health.

The strongest relationship in Turtles All the Way Down, rather refreshingly, is Aza’s friendship with Daisy. Though later revelations about their bond might push the outgoing character into unsympathetic territory, Daisy’s unabashed support of Aza and colorful personality make the dynamic one that we’re eager to watch from the very beginning. It helps that Cree gives a great performance, playing well off Merced’s more introspective character.

Turtles All The Way Down


Hannah Marks

Release Date

May 2, 2024


Warner Bros. Pictures
, New Line Cinema
, Temple Hill Entertainment




Isabela Merced
, Cree Cicchino
, Felix Mallard
, Judy Reyes

Turtles All The Way Down Proves Isabela Merced Is A Star

Isabela Merced looking scared yet whistful in Turtles All the Way Down
Image via Max.

Already quite the established young performer, with credits in Transformers: The Last Knight, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, and the upcoming DC Universe as Hawgirl (not to mention HBO’s The Last of Us season 2), Merced really gets the chance to shine in Turtles All the Way Down. Aza goes on a rich journey throughout the course of the movie, allowing Merced the opportunity to play all sides of the character. The moments where Aza’s OCD hits her the hardest are grueling, hard to watch scenes, and Merced seems to pour her entire heart and soul into each one.

Turtles All the Way Down’s narrative shortcomings are ultimately easy to overlook. At the end of it all, the movie is truly Aza’s story, and Marks renders it with sensitivity and heart. A more well-rounded cast of characters might’ve led to a more satisfying viewing experience, but this is still a movie with something worthwhile to say.

Turtles All the Way Down is 111 minutes long and rated PG-13 for thematic material involving mental illness, some strong language and sexual references.

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