(director: Hannah Marks; screenwriters: Elizabeth Berger, Isaac Aptaker, based on a novel by John Green; cinematographer: Brian Burgoyne; editor: Andrea Bottigliero; music: Ian Hultquist; cast: Isabela Merced (Aza Holmes), Judy Reyes (Gina, Mom), Felix Mallard (Davis), Miles Eckhardt (Noah), Cree Cicchino (Daisy), Maliq Johnson (Mychal), J. Smith-Cameron (Prof. Abbott), Poorna Jagannathan (Dr. Kira Singh, psychiatrist), Chuck Thompson (Russell Pickett); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Issac Klausner; Max/New Line Cinema; 2024)

“More ludicrous than perceptive.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Hannah Marks (“Don’t Make Me Go”/”After Everything”) adapts the 2017 John Green best-selling novel to the screen. The uneven YA film is more ludicrous than perceptive. It’s scripted by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, as the novelist author uses his own compulsive behavior and obsessions to lay on the film’s female protagonist.

Aza Holmes (Isabela Merced) is the screwed-up but bright high school 17-year-old suffering from anxiety problems and an OCD condition. How she manages these problems becomes the crux of the film. She still has not recovered from her father’s death when she was a youngster.

Aza dwells with her well-meaning but overwhelmed mother (Judy Reyes) in the suburbs of Indianapolis. She yearns to attend Northwestern and attend the lectures of her favorite teacher there, the psychologist, Prof. Abbott (J. Smith-Cameron). Her other obsession is more frightening, her irrational fear of being infected by a deadly bacteria germ and dying.

When it’s reported in the media that a fugitive billionaire, Russell Pickett (Chuck Thompson), a scientist facing federal charges, has been missing for days, and police are offering a $100,000 reward for any information on his whereabouts, she tunes into the situation and on the pleas of her smart-assed best friend Daisy (Cree Cicchino), employed at a Chuck E. Cheese-coded venue, will scheme to reconnect with her former crush, the rich-kid Davis (Felix Mallard, Aussie actor), who she met at a ‘sad’ summer camp for grieving (she for her father, he for his mom). This scheme is discussed while the girls were at their regular lunch at Applebee’s.

When sneaking around the missing billionaire’s estate, his security team catches them and brings them to Davis and his younger brother Noah (Miles Eckhardt), who live alone at the mansion, and she thereby reconnects with Davis–forgetting about her detective work to instead live with him. But she’s still fearful of getting germs if she kisses.

The film exploits a mental illness for its comedy purposes without saying anything substantial about the illness. Though Aza is treated for her obsessive-compulsive disorder problems by a serious shrink (Poorna Jagannathan), she fails to listen or make an effort to get better.

The questions remain–if Aza can live a productive life, fall in love (or even kiss without fear of germs), find happiness and, in this coming-of-age tale, can Aza ever hope to lead a so-called ‘normal life’ as an adult.

The acting by Merced and Cree is rich and full of life (especially by Cree, who steals the pic). While Mallard’s one-dimensional sensitive character is not interesting.

The title is derived from a tale about an older woman attending a science lecture that claims “the Earth rests on the shell of a tortoise, which in turn sits on the back of a larger tortoise, and so on, to infinity.”

REVIEWED ON 5/12/2024  GRADE: B-