Turtles All the Way Down movie review (2024)

Aza (Isabela Merced) is a timid teen with OCD, habitually finding herself in intrusive thought spirals concerning infection and the human microbiome, feeling like an endless Russian doll of a person, unable to find herself in the layers. Juggling her mental health alongside the grief of her late father and the angst of feeling misunderstood by her hovering though well-intentioned mother (Judy Reyes), Aza often feels drowned in her own humanity. Her best friend Daisy (Cree) is the opposite of her in every way: outgoing, witty, and perpetually unbothered, at times to the point of recklessness. 

When a local billionaire goes on the run to avoid pending charges, Daisy convinces Aza to sneak onto his estate in search for clues, in the hopes of snagging $100k worth of reward money for pertinent info. When caught by security, their saving grace from a call to the cops is that Aza knows the magnate’s son, Davis (Felix Mallard), from a childhood summer spent at grief camp. This reunion prompts a swift change from a childhood crush to a budding romance. But as Aza desires closeness, the expected butterflies of anxiety are metastasized by the oppressive influence of her OCD. 

“Turtles All the Way Down” is on the pulse of a very present sense of youth, one marked by discussions of mental health. Marks’ direction and excellent sound design, which sets Aza’s thought spirals to a soundtrack of pulsing static, places us effectively into her interiority. Neither the film nor Merced’s highly emotive performance pities Aza or people like her in an othering way. The proximity we’re given to her inner dialogue through Merced’s narration, as well as the palpable, smile-inducing chemistry of Merced and Cree’s Daisy root Aza so empathetically that we, with ease, can pinpoint our own anxieties, present and remembered, amidst her shallow breaths. However, her OCD and intrusive thoughts are not defining. Equally, the film’s tenderness and humor are touching and exciting in the wealth of moments that are peripheral to lapses where she’s trapped in her mind. It’s also undeniably relatable.