'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret?' review: Judy Blume novel gets wholesome adaptation
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Judy Blume is one of our most storied authors, whose work spans several generations. Having netted various industry awards and toppled hundreds of bestsellers lists, Blume, who is now 85, has cemented an iconic legacy that ensures her books will remain timeless. And despite a few cinematic adaptations through the years, one book in particular has been closely guarded: “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” The coming-of-age-novel that, like many of Blume’s works, deals with sensitive and mature topics like puberty and sex education, but that’s what also made them relatable. I promise you can be any age or gender to enjoy this smart, winning, and incredibly wholesome cinematic adaptation. And as someone who never went through female puberty (I did, however, grow up with three sisters) nor read the book, it never hindered my enjoyment. I was smiling the entire time and maybe even shed a tear.
Written in 1970, the subject matter around “Are You There God?” was often considered taboo because it dealt with common issues like menstruation and religion with a delicate lens. Like a sixth grader discovering how their body operates and asking parents questions about spirituality. Today, no such topic should be off limits. In fact, its discussion should be championed. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way as a society except maybe that cell phones would render much of these conversations mute. Kelly Fermon Craig, who directed the sharp “Edge of Seventeen,” has delivered a big screen treatment worthy of the source material and should remove the stigma that you can’t discuss female puberty casually. Especially when you stop to think how many movies have existed from the male perspective.
While Craig tackled similar-ish issues with Hailee Steinfeld in “Edge of Seventeen,” here, she trades in the high school theatrics for a younger antagonist. Abby Ryder Forston is quite the revelation playing Margaret Simon, a shy and awkward 11-year old recently uprooted from her life in New York City to the New Jersey suburbs. And as any 11-year old would probably tell you, learning to navigate the new scene comes with crippling anxiety, but Margaret finds her path, stumbling upon a unique friend group keen to discuss their evolving bodies and, of course, dish the gossip on the cute boys they like. It’s the childlike wonder and innocence that Craig captures so authentically in these earlier sequences that make the film act as a borderline documentary.
Forston nails the uncomfortable middle school charm as she weaves through the various curveballs life is throwing at Margaret. Whether it’s understanding what it means to be Jewish and Catholic or why her mother’s parents don’t come around often, or something as simple as noticing her friend’s chest sizes have increased (the friend group does a chant in unison: “We must increase our bust” in the hopes something may change overnight), Forston nails the reliability factor. Likewise for Rachel McAdams playing Margaret’s loving mother Barbara, who is estranged from her devout Christian family after she married Herb (Benny Safdie), who is Jewish. It’s a conflict that arises late in the game and its resolution feels pigeonholed into the movie whereas in the book, I assume it had more time to flesh out. Regardless, McAdams gives a strong, impassioned performance that stands among some of the best on-screen representation moms have ever seen.
In an age where school districts are censoring and banning books, there’s something refreshing about the frank dialogue around these age-appropriate subject matters. But the movie is also loaded with laughs and plenty of wholesome sillness that’s become part of the signature Blume trademark. And the overall message of self discovery, compassion, and kindness remain important learning lessons for all ages. 50 years removed from its original publication, “Are There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is still finding ways to enlighten audiences across the globe.
ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET? Opens in theaters Friday, April 28th.