Turtles All The Way Down parents guide: The John Green adaptation is a hard but worthy watch for teens

The latest movie based on the author's works hits Max today.
Turtles All The Way Down - Isabela Merced
Turtles All The Way Down - Isabela Merced /

John Green’s name is synonymous with Teen Drama. From The Fault in Our Stars to Paper Towns, and more recent TV adaptations like Looking for Alaska, the author’s books have launched a thousand ‘ships and tears. And now the latest one is here with Turtles All The Way Down, which hit Max (formerly HBO Max) today.

The movie stars Isabela Merced as Aza Holmes, a high schooler with OCD who reconnects with a boy from her past when his father disappears. It has all the markings of a John Green weeper: a kid with some sort of issue; a generic brown-haired boy for her to romance (played by Felix Mallard); a quirky best friend into nerd stuff (an excellently hilarious Cree); and a long-suffering parent ready to offer advice (Scrubs star Judy Reyes).

Director Hannah Marks doesn’t shy away from the harder bits dealing with Aza’s OCD, and there’s definitely some darkness in the movie when it comes to the disappearance of Davis’s (Mallard) father. So is this teen movie good for teens? Or does it err too adult?

Turtles All The Way Down Parents Guide: Explaining The PG-13 Age Rating

Turtles All The Way Down - Isabela Merced and Cree /

The new Max movie is rated PG-13 for “thematic material involving mental illness, some strong language and sexual references.” So you already know this is probably not for the younger kids.

Sex & Nudity: There is one scene where Aza and Davis strip down to their underwear for a night swim, but that’s the closest the movie comes to any sort of nudity. As for sexual content, there’s some making out – these are teens, after all – and a bunch of discussion about sex, particularly in reference to Aza’s OCD, which has her constantly picturing what kind of bacterial infections she might get. There’s nothing too raunchy here, but just be aware there are occasional, frank conversations and references to sex, per the MPA rating.

Violence: There’s a pretty harrowing scene involving a car crash that involves some blood and injuries. While there’s nothing explicitly shown, there are also intimations of death by suicide late in the movie. Additionally, not sure this goes under violence, but Aza’s father dies in the opening montage.

Language: Nothing out of the ordinary for teens in a PG-13 movie. There’s cursing, but it doesn’t get too flowery or creative.

Drinking & Drugs: Aza takes various medications to try and treat her OCD. As for drinking, though, these cool teens only drink Dr. Pepper.

Overall Verdict: What Age Is Turtles All The Way Down Appropriate For?

The PG-13 rating seems pretty accurate here, though be warned that the scenes of Aza dealing with her OCD can get very realistic and upsetting. Merced gives a fully realized and thought out performance, Hannah Marks doesn’t shy away from the realities of dealing with potentially damaging mental compulsions, and it can be hard to watch.

But at the same time, the way Aza’s friends and mother deal with and relate to her can be very rewarding in terms of providing strategies for dealing with compulsions like OCD. There’s some real worth here in not totally Hollywood-izing OCD – spoiler, but at no point is Aza magically cured – so if this is something families are dealing with, I could see it providing a good bonding point between parent and child. Heck, my kids do not have OCD, and I cried, so there you go.

Plus, the friendship between Aza and her best friend Daisy (Cree) is nuanced as well, and also eschews a lot of the trappings of this sort of friendship in movies. This is a good film, a solid adaptation, and one well worth sitting down with your teens and checking out to help talk them through the more troubling parts.

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