Legendary author Judy Blume has written 29 books and swore the only one she would never consider selling for the screen was 1970’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, her timeless coming-of-age book that became a rite of passage for just about every girl, like Margaret, going from age 11 to 12, and probably their mothers as well. Blume held fast until 2018 when writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig and her mentor, Oscar-winning filmmaker James L. Brooks, came calling with just the right idea for an adaptation. The deal was sealed. The movie is here. Blume says she is probably the only author to say the movie is better than her book.
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It may have taken half a century to do it but, there can be no doubt that Craig has gotten it right. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is as perfect an adaptation of a life-changing book as there will ever be. On top of all that it is a rip-roaring, funny, human, wonderful studio movie comedy you might have forgotten Hollywood knew how to make anymore. The evidence is here that at least this team proves that assumption is wrong.
It is a tall order to bring a beloved book read and re-read by multiple generations to the screen and not disappoint, but I will bet this will turn out to be hugely successful, and not least for leaving it in the exact early ’70s time period in which Blume had set it. It serves as pure nostalgia thankfully to see kids here growing up in a era without cell phones, social media, apps, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter. It’s a positive relief to spend an hour and 45 minutes watching a unique story of family, transition, finding yourself and your own worth, and watching the wonder of that in-between age when everything begins to change.
Blume’s book was almost revolutionary at the time, unafraid to have a main character questioning her place with her own peers, religious beliefs, and her body’s physical development (yes that includes a lot of talk about periods, bras, pads — not the stuff of Marvel movies, eh?). Craig’s adaptation turns it all into something quite touching, and hilarious in the process.
Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) is your seemingly normal 11-, almost 12-year-old girl who finds her world turned upside down when her family including mom Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and dad Herb (Benny Safdie) move to a New Jersey suburb, a particularly upsetting development because that means she will also be away for the first time from her beloved grandma, the vivacious Sylvia Simon (Kathy Bates). It is always difficult when you are the “new kid in town,” but Margaret is at a tough age wondering if she will ever be a woman, or at least a teenager. She often has private conversations with God, asking for advice but praying she will grow some breasts, be accepted, and all kinds of other questions top of mind along the way.
In her new circle she finds herself in a “secret” club led by Nancy Wheeler (a wonderful Elle Graham), the kind of girl who must achieve everything first, and that includes puberty. There is also the school and class where a new teacher, Mr. Benedict (Echo Kellum), is dealing with his own issues in relating to his students. Family conflicts also emerge including including questions of religion that put Margaret in the middle of the reality of having a Jewish dad and a mom from a devout Christian family, one who we learn disowned her after her marriage and has never met Margaret. This causes big problems particularly with Sylvia, who is trying to introduce her granddaughter to temple. A dinner scene where it all comes to a head is just one of the highlights, but for Margaret no easy answers are given.
But this is a movie ultimately that gets a lot of mileage out of simple, things like going to buy that first bra, or excitement over going to the theater with Grandma, or even heading to summer camp. If this sounds like it is strictly for girls and their mothers, think again. There are instantly relatable moments throughout for every member of the family, and it is not sugar-coated at all as a well-deserved PG-13 rating proves.
The fact that it has been cast to perfection by Francine Maisler and Melissa Kostenbauder also makes this the charmer it is. Fortson is the ideal wide-eyed Margaret, totally getting who this kid is and nailing a character a large group of moviegoers may already have in their head when they enter the theater. McAdams is warm and real, and Safdie is also excellent as a man trying to balance every female in his family from daughter to wife to mother to in-laws. All the kids, even the boys, deliver in natural fashion too including Isol Young, Amari Price and Katherine Kupferer among others who make the most of their screen time. And as for the brilliant Bates, she simply inhabits Sylvia in every aspect of a woman also going through some growing pains, those of being alone and aging. In fact, every character in this film is finding there is much to learn in life at whatever point you happen to be.
Craig’s first film was the equally splendid coming-of -another-age comedy, The Edge of Seventeen. She has a unique voice herself and knows how to balance big laughs with big heart seamlessly. No wonder Blume loves this movie. Shout-out to Hans Zimmer’s lilting musical score, too. Producers are Brooks, Julie Ansell, Richard Sakai, Craig, Amy Lorraine Brooks, Aldric La’auli Porter and Blume herself.
Title: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
Release Date: April 28, 2023
Director-Screenwriter: Kelly Fremon Craig
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Abby Ryder Fortson, Benny Safdie, Kathy Bates, Echo Kellum, Isol Young, Janie Loomis, Gretchen Potter, Elle Graham, Mia Dillon, Gary Houston, Wilbur Fitzgerald.
Running Time: 1 hr 45 min
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