It was fairly standard for us to read various novels in school, whether or not we liked them. However, there’s usually one that almost everyone remembers reading in class: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Even if you’ve never read it, this classic novel by acclaimed author Judy Blume wasn’t hesitant to share a story about adolescent awkwardness. It’s a relatable story that may have been ahead of its time because it’s been labeled “controversial.” Some might call it “challenged” because it touches on topics that are currently being debated. That may be why it was never on our reading list in any English classes I’ve taken. After over 50 years, it was about time for this classic to get the big screen adaption generations had been waiting for in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, a film I wouldn’t say I could identify with everything it was conveying, but what we received was one of the best films I’ve watched this year so far, and one I regret not catching it early.
What’s the Story: Set in 1970, 11-year-old Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) arrived home in New York City after having fun at summer camp before starting sixth grade. But, unfortunately, that moment of settling in goes out the window when her loving parents, Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and Herbs (Bennie Safdie), drop the big news that they’re moving to New Jersey since her father got a promotion at his job. This does not bode well for Margaret because it means she would have to leave everything behind, including her friends and grandmother Sylvia (Kathy Bates). When they first moved to their new suburban home, she made a new friend in one of her neighbors, Nancy Wheeler (Elle Graham), and invited her to join Janie (Amari Price) and Gretchen (Katherine Kupferer) in their Secret Club after school, where they explore their side of womanhood, all the while Margaret begins to finally discover what religion she is connected to, given that her mother is Christian and her father is Jewish.
Growing up, I never read the book, but I am very familiar with it and how it helped young girls through adolescence. The closet I got from getting the basics of how it closed out came from an early episode of South Park I thought about halfway through. Still, it was on my radar since this happens to be the long-awaited sophomore effort from writer and director Kelly Fremon Craig, who’s the same woman behind 2016’s underrated The Edge of Seventeen. I adore that film, not just because Hailee Steinfeld, the woman of my dreams, gives a standout performance, but also because it’s the only teen film from the past ten years that, even though I was in my early twenties when I saw it, understood me. So it made sense for her and producer James L. Brooks to work together again to bring that ounce of reliability to Blume’s source material for younger audiences asking similar questions right now. The book’s topics of preparing for the challenges of girlhood and religion may not seem to fit together, but Craig walks a fine line that is both enlightening and humorous when finding who we are at a certain age.
Through the eyes of young Margaret that takes place for an entire year, she has those questions about her body many might reminisce about when they were growing up, whether it’s getting your first bra, crushing on cute boys, or that embarrassing moment of buying maxi pads at the drugstore without turning it into a scene all hints on being completely awkward. And she doesn’t exactly describe herself as religious (agnostic) since her parents want her to decide when she’s older. She speaks to God for advice to find the answers to her life and sets out to see what she really believes in, even when one side might not be all that interesting. Both aspects of placing into the film add to the authenticity surrounding everything to make it feel right in place, thanks to its period setting and not deciding to make it modern. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. always goes for the wholesome vibe without delving into becoming too overdramatic for the story’s sake. We’re in a time now where it’s normal for teenagers to ask about our spiritual side and how our bodies deal with stresses; it’s the way of life that should be discussed. I’m a guy, and I didn’t find it complicated to see things from Margaret’s perspective.
Speaking of which, Abby Ryder Fortson, best known as young Cassie Lang in Ant-Man and its sequel, is fantastic as she’s playing a character navigating the good and bad sides of what makes life the way it is. Similarly to how Craig directed Hailee Steinfeld in The Edge of Seventeen, she delivers an unexpectedly nuanced performance that is enjoyable to watch throughout, allowing viewers to identify with Margaret easily. Margaret is optimistic about finding her path, but she ultimately understands the consequences when she desperately wants to achieve these hopes. It’s so nice to see a young actor in this part who understands the fundamentals of the style and delivers one of the best young performances I’ve seen in a long time. She also pairs wonderfully with Rachel McAdams as her mother. The movie’s about Margaret, but this also gets into an arc with Barbara. Not only did she give up teaching art to be a stay-at-home mom working with the PTA, but the element of how she’s estranged from her parents after she married someone of the Jewish faith made her more layered than I expected that’s one of the most emotional moments early on. That scene with McAdams made me forget how great of a dramatic actress she can be, making this one of her best roles. Kathy Bates shines as well whenever her character Sylvia and Margaret are together. Just that relationship between them is nothing but sweet.
Even acknowledging what the book addresses and seeing it translated to film, it’s easy to see why this is still timeless decades later. Anybody, especially parents who have children who are currently adapting to change, can enjoy this, understanding the awkwardness we see in us when we were young. Something about the last 20 minutes feels a bit rushed, and I could’ve used Benny Safdie more. Still, aside from those minor quibbles, this has become such a surprise that I’m not sure why it took them so long to release it, and if anyone said this is a faithful adaptation, I’d believe them. I fear nobody will go out and see this in theaters, and after its nearly $7 million opening weekend, it doesn’t seem like it will be a box office hit. My morning screening had a solid crowd, yet we’ll see.
I loved Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Having yet to read Judy Blume’s book, leave it to Kelly Fremon Craig to bring together an old-fashioned, coming-of-age dramedy that handles its topics with warmth and hilarity. Abby Ryder Fortson and Rachel McAdams were fantastic. Even if it doesn’t change the landscape of these kinds of movies, it’s definitely worth checking out and can’t be missed.
Release Date: April 28, 2023
Runtime: 106 Minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexual education and some suggestive material
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