The Judy Blume Renaissance continues. Last week, we talked about the beautifully heartfelt documentary Judy Blume Forever. This week we enter the fiction realm as one of the author’s most remembered books, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret finally hits the big screen. Is the work a standard kids’ movie? Or is this (like much of Blume’s work) one for young and old alike? Read on!
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret follows Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) as she lives the ecstatic highs and desperate lows of life as a preteen in 1970. You know what that means. Boys. Bras. Getting “It.” You know, her period. How will the youngster cope during what is often one of the most tumultuous years in a young woman’s life? Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Benny Safdie and Elle Graham co-star in the movie. Kelly Fremon Craig directs the film from her own script which is based on Judy Blume’s novel of the same name.
In Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Fremon Craig jumps into challenging waters. We’ve already talked so much about Blume this month and this book is truly formative reading for children and has been since its 1970 publication. This is a story that holds an important (and nostalgic) place in the hearts of many. That is a lot of pressure to live up to.
Well, fear not! Fremon Craig jumps into this sacred space and creates a work that does the heart oh-so-good. I laughed. There was crying. In fact, I blubbered. I felt all of the “feels.”
It must be mentioned right off the top that Abby Ryder Fortson does the unthinkable. The 13-year-old steps into not only an iconic, but challenging lead role and shines every time she’s on-screen.
Rachel McAdams as Barbara Dimon and Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret Simon in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Photo Credit: Dana Hawley
As Margaret, Fortson sidesteps all the struggles often seen with child performers. She certainly is believable as the young girl. She effectively crafts a complex performance that juggles a variety of emotions. She goes through the pain and joy of childhood. Yet, it never feels forced or obnoxious. She’s supremely relatable and in that, it’s easy to feel for her.
At the same time though, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret doesn’t fall into the kid’s movie trap. While Margaret is the main character the story crafts painfully relatable characters among the adults as well. There truly is something for everyone.
As Barbara Simon, Rachel McAdams reminds us why she’s one of the best performers working today. In fact, watching her in a relaxed 1970s wardrobe, I realized the part she was born to play. Gloria Steinem. Take note Hollywood.
McAdams crafts Barbara as a quietly poignant example of a woman fighting through the constraints of the era. There’s a beautiful complexity to her character that reminds us, the past is never as simple as we remember it.
The movie takes place at a historical crossroads. Coming in 1970, it is set after “The Feminine Mystique” and the happy housewife ideal. However, as the story opens and we see the family moving to the suburbs, Barbara is dealing with her own struggles. She’s moving away from a job she likes to be a stay-at-home mom.
We see throughout the film that while Barbara is a brilliant mother, she’s not comfortable domestically. She struggles to cook. She can’t quite get the whole furniture thing down. This woman is indicative of 1970s, Second Wave Feminism. However, she stands at the precipice. At this point in time, the memory of the happy housewife is just too strong and she’s very much feeling the pressure to be “that” mother.
At the same time, the film’s use of Bennie Safdie is similarly subtle as family patriarch Herb. He doesn’t always have a lot to do (he does work in the city after all), but he’s gentle and likable in this beautifully supportive role. At the same time though, Safdie brings the family’s pain to unflinching life as they contend with the reappearance of Barbara’s antisemitic parents. In a story like this, the paternal figure can often be a thankless role, but the strength in Safdie’s performance really contributes to the gentle strength permeating in every frame.
Through Fremon Craig and her work, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret presents a poignant examination of girlhood at its most powerful. The director brings a voice and perspective that rings realistic and relatable in every moment.
Bringing a woman behind the camera to tell a story like this allows Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret to present a perspective that not everyone can appreciate. Fremon Craig’s influence comes to life in the small moments. It’s in the little details like seeing Margaret’s blisters when she refuses to wear socks or even Nancy’s (Elle Graham) tearful panic when she gets her first period. These are subtle but heartfelt scenes that strike a chord. Women see this in each other and we feel these things, but we don’t often see them on-screen.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is a movie that packs a surprisingly heartfelt wallop. This is a period piece that taps into all things 20th-century nostalgia. At the same time though, the joy and pain depicted on screen is something generations of children, particularly young girls have experienced. This is beautifully relatable and is a must-see for not just families but for anyone looking to revel in their feelings for a while.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret opens in theaters on April 28, 2023.
Check out our other movie reviews, here.