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John Green’s ‘Turtles All the Way Down’ Could Become a Movie

If done right, Fox’s third Green adaptation could potentially address OCD onscreen in valuable ways.
The Fault In Our Stars
By  · Published on December 6th, 2017

If done right, Fox’s third Green adaptation could potentially address OCD onscreen in valuable ways.

Fox is in the process of developing an adaptation of John Green‘s latest novel, “Turtles All the Way Down,” into a movie.

The studio optioned the rights to Green’s new teen detective book that was published this past October. The official synopsis of “Turtles All the Way Down” goes as follows: “Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.”

What the full synopsis only hints at is the fact that “Turtles All the Way Down” features a protagonist with obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is something drawn from Green’s personal experiences: “This is my first attempt to write directly about the kind of mental illness that has affected my life since childhood, so while the story is fictional, it is also quite personal.”

Those familiar with Green’s storytelling would know about his penchant for narratives that come from the perspective of “quirky” teenagers. His books, that both encapsulate and critique the “manic pixie dream girl” trope, have resulted in two prior adaptations. The Fault in Our Stars was the tear-jerker that got the ball rolling with Green adaptations. TFiOS was followed up by Paper Towns, which didn’t do as well with critics and audiences but was still a financial success.

Not all Green adaptations have made it out of development hell, though. Fans still holding out hope for a Looking for Alaska movie will remain in wait for a long time — at least, until Paramount decides it wants to get in on the John Green business. Hence, it’s no surprise that Green remains hesitant even during the announcement of a potential “Turtles” film: “It doesn’t mean there will definitely be a movie, but it means that there might be one. So now’s the time to begin inundating me with casting suggestions.”

…Which means there is a distinct possibility that an adaptation of “Turtles All the Way Down” will either lead us to find the next Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley. Alternatively, someone might pull a Nat Wolff and do an ill-advised remake of Death Note, but that’s probably me thinking too far ahead. What I’m intrigued by is the premise of girls solving crimes together, and I’m hoping for more of an exploration of that relationship than any heterosexual romance subplot that has infused all of Green’s work so far.

Another real hook in “Turtles All the Way Down” is the tentative hope that the film version will shine a much-needed spotlight on portrayals of OCD onscreen. Often depicted in offensive caricatures, having a protagonist with OCD may help reduce stigmas around the disorder. Now, considering how watered down the actual message of Paper Towns ended up being in its film version, I’m not very optimistic that Fox will take a conscientious route with this. “Turtles All the Way Down” will likely make a big movie regardless. But rather than simply use OCD as a plot device or “quirk,” the studio has a real opportunity — a moral imperative, even — to provide a gateway for more accurate, humanized portrayals of mental illness.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)