REVIEW — “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”
A faithful adaptation of author Blume’s 1970 novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret tells the story of 11-year-old Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) whose young life is thrown for a loop when her parents move her from NYC to a New Jersey suburb where she encounters budding mean girl Nancy (Elle Graham), cute neighborhood boy Moose (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong), and a religious tug-of-war just as she is approaching puberty.
To cope, Margaret prays to God for help as she navigates a new school, intimidating friends, first crushes, and her changing body. Fortunately, she has a supportive family to help her through life’s adolescent curve-balls.
Rachel McAdams is at her warmest as Margaret’s eager-to-please, newly stay-at-home mom Barbara. She is very supportive of Margaret, almost to a fault. She puts her own art instructor career on hold to be there for her daughter, encouraging Margaret to make friends and taking her bra shopping after Nancy fills her head with ideas.
In an unconventional but surprising performance, actor/director Benny Safdie (Good Time, Uncut Gems) is perfectly cast as Margaret’s fun, devoted dad Herb. Like a team that you are rooting for, both actors portray a loving and relatable married couple that feels authentically comfortable and lived-in.
Kathy Bates absolutely steals the show as Sylvia, Margaret’s sassy, spitfire paternal grandma. Wealthy-but-lonely, she is a doting and influential presence in Margaret’s life. However, she feels left behind in the big city, and likes to guilt Barbara over that fact any chance she gets. The two mothers love each other, but often clash in their opinions on what is best for Margaret.
Barbara also has a complicated relationship with her own parents. The staunch Christians disowned her after her marriage to Herb, who is Jewish. Both of their strict-yet-conflicting religious upbringings made it easy for Barbara and Herb to not want to force religion on their own daughter.
This creates somewhat of a religious dilemma for Margaret as she tries to fit in within her new community. She also wants God to respond to her prayers, so she goes to temple with her grandma and visits several different churches in her area to see which religion speaks to her. In dramatic, traumatic, and comedic scenes, Fortson is a revelation as the title character as she navigates between the awkward insecurities of a pre-pubescent pre-teen and the fierce determination of a blossoming young adult.
Produced by James L. Brooks and written for the screen and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig (The Edge of Seventeen), the endearing film candidly tackles some of the more squeamish aspects of a young girl’s life in a funny and relatable way. However, you don’t have to be a girl to appreciate this lovingly made mother-daughter story. With two pre-teen daughters of my own, I absolutely loved this film.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret perfectly presents the emotions that swirl around young girls at this stage in their lives and captures them from the perspective of both the kids and the parents. This is due to the masterful direction of Craig, but largely thanks to Judy Blume’s beloved source material that finally gets to bloom on the big screen.
Rated PG-13 with a running time of 1 hour and 51 minutes, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret opens in theaters April 28, 2023.