Film: “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”

Going to the movies. How many of us can count on one hand the number of times we’ve done that in the last 2.8 years? Imagine my delight in being invited to see “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” (from LIONSGATE, a Gracie Films Production) at the theatre.

Like many Beauty News NYC readers, I’m a professed Judy Blume fan. Her books were funny, relevant, and real. The tone was so specific, the feelings identifiable; it seemed as though she was speaking to me, and in a voice that felt like my own. Blume wrote Margaret in a matter of weeks, and this film comes nearly 54 years after it was published. All I can say: it’s about time and worth the wait.

The movie starts with Margaret Simon (played convincingly by Abby Ryder Fortson) returning home from camp to her New York City. Her mother Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and dad Herb (Benny Safdie) are kind and loving but are overshadowed by Margaret’s beloved grandmother, Kathy Bates. Not to take away too much, but Margaret soon learns that the family is leaving the city for a “better life” in the suburbs, and, horrors, to New Jersey. The life she has known and the proximity to her grandmother are about to be rocked and in a big way.

A bittersweet departure finds the family ensconced in 1970s suburbia. Enter Margaret’s neighbor and soon-to-be best friend, sixth grader Nancy Wheeler (Elle Graham), a complex character, verging on both trusted confidante and mean girl. She informs Margaret that she’s been chosen as the fourth and final member of her secret club, which while a privilege, has strict rules. Fellow endearing club members Janie Loomis (Amari Price) and Gretchen Potter (Katherine Kupferer) similarly share Margaret’s unease over conversations about boys and bras, but while unsure, they agree to and willingly follow Nancy’s dominating leadership. The main rule involves sharing news of one’s first period, complete with intricate documentation of the experience. It’s in scenes here with the girls—in class, after school, out shopping and at a party—where the film shines. Instantly, we are transported back to the classroom, into the halls, where sounds, smells and feelings, come flooding back.

Director Kelly Fremon Craig (director of Edge of Seventeen) wrote the screenplay adapted from Blume’s book, does a solid job of showcasing the story while remaining truthful to the text and production design by Steve Saklad (also of Juno) offers a soft palette of colors, textures and furnishings that is on point. Though, being the stickler that I am, I bristled at the music, clothing and accessories, which seemed to confuse 1968 with 1974 and so forth… but Nancy’s use of the word, “super model”? No way — that definitely did NOT exist until the 80’s!

Another highlight of the film is experiencing the book’s namesake dialogues with God. At first, Margaret’s conversations are more of an effort of wishing, to reverse ill-fated circumstances, but eventually the discussions segue into topics far more personal and grown-up. Blume’s gift lies in Margaret’s discovery of not only of her sexuality, her body and its changes, but also of herself and testing her independence. Her family’s decision to raise her with “no religion” due to their own differing backgrounds of Christianity and Judaism serves as a source of conflict. Prompted by a school project, Margaret delves into a self-imposed exploration of religion, attending services at a temple, a Baptist church and Christmas eve nativity to understand her identity and help to instill a sense of belonging.

As Margaret, Abby is poignant and believable, her eyes and face illuminate a million expressions without uttering a word. The supporting cast of friends, classmates and the film’s second half makes for a dramatic departure in the story, which for those who do not recall the book or have not read, no spoilers here. Also, the screenplay seemed to veer too much into mother Barbara’s personal story, which, while noteworthy and a nod to feminism, was not in the book. Given that we were there to see and experience Margaret and her story, this felt inauthentic.

As the film ended and the lights went up, I listened to chatterings from fellow moviegoers. Two women spoke about how – unlike Margaret and her chums who were eager to experience their first period and enter womanhood – they were both terrified of even the mention of puberty and menstruation and not eager to share news of their journey. This, I think, is what is so remarkable and encapsulates everything about the enduring power of Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Before Blume, there was no book that expressed or gave teenagers agency to discuss and express fear, anger, sadness and joy about the state of our bodies, growing up, daily disappointments, and what we were experiencing. Whatever one was feeling, Blume encouraged us to relay our emotions, openly and without judgment. In fact, after the film, I was so inspired that I watched the documentary, Judy Blume Forever (on Amazon) and learned more about this extraordinary human and her incredible life. In addition to going on to write many titles for children and adults, she has been a champion of libraries and keeping books available, accessible, and on the shelves. Since its inception, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has been discussed, banned, and the subject of controversy in school and public libraries and in bookstores. I can’t help but think that Margaret would be eager for us to join her in keeping this book and film alive, well, and accessible! That said, I digress; go see this enchanting and wonderful film.

Written for the Screen and Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig
Based on the Book by: Judy Blume
Produced by: James L. Brooks, p.g.a., Julie Ansell, p.g.a., Richard Sakai, Kelly Fremon Craig, p.g.a., Judy Blume, Amy Lorraine Brooks and Aldric La’auli Porter
Executive Producer: Jonathan McCoy
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Abby Ryder Fortson, Elle Graham, Benny Safdie, Echo Kellum and Kathy Bates
Rating: ??PG-13 for thematic material involving sexual education and some suggestive material.
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

from LIONSGATE, a Gracie Films Production.