Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (2023)
Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig
Premise: An adaptation of the book by Judy Blume. Eleven year old Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) and her family move from New York City to the New Jersey suburbs. She makes new friends and experiences anxiety about adolescence and religion.
What Works: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is a classic book that has been read and shared for decades because of the way it humorously but honestly deals with the experiences of teenage girls. The filmmakers understand why this book has been so beloved for so long and that’s reflected in the care with which this movie has been made. The filmmakers retain the 1970s setting, which is appropriate given the specifics of the story and the way it is set in an analog culture. But the core anxieties and experiences of these characters transcend generations and much like Judy Blume’s writing the film adaptation of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret gets to the emotional truths of early adolescence. Margaret adjusts to a new school and makes new friends while also adjusting to changes in her body and the expectations and pressures of womanhood. The filmmakers are never crass but they do approach all of this with good humor and an empathetic tone. The film also expands on some of the material from the book, bringing forward Margaret’s mother, played by Rachel McAdams. She is a homemaker and aspiring artist who gets involved in the PTA and finds herself overwhelmed. The mother’s subplot is an effective parallel with Margaret’s story. The casting of the movie is terrific, namely Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret. The supporting characters are well cast as well. The kids come across as genuine teenagers rather than a Hollywood version of adolescence and the adults are more real than the kind of sitcom parents often seen in teen comedies.
What Doesn’t: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is about a preteen girl reconciling different aspects of her identity, namely her religious affiliation and her sense of womanhood. Admirably, the filmmakers don’t overplay the resolution. She doesn’t have everything figured out by the end of the movie but she has reached an epiphany about what kind of person she wants to be and how she will treat others. However, the religious questions and the adolescent issues don’t really intersect. Whether Margaret is Christian or Jewish or an atheist is siloed from her relationships with her friends and her anxieties about menstruation and womanhood. As such, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret lacks in storytelling economy. On the other hand, the filmmakers don’t overly connect the parts of the story in ways that would feel contrived.
Bottom Line: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is a terrific film. It’s a faithful adaptation that retains the qualities that made readers love the book while also finding a few ways of expanding the material.
Episode: #947 (May 7, 2023)