Growing up can be confusing and messy. And Judy Blume‘s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret helped readers navigate those difficult times. Her books always supported the reader’s intelligence and put forth something honest and heartfelt. So in an age where film adaptations look like a simple cash grab for studios, it’s easy to understand why the author is so protective of her book from falling into that trap of becoming just another film adaptation to be lost in the dust. As such, it was essential for a studio like Lionsgate to understand what the source material meant and that its cinematic telling must be carefully approached.
It makes sense that director Kelly Fremon Craig takes the helm. She’s somewhat familiar with this material, having directed the film adaptation of The Edge of Seventeen, another coming-of-age novel taken from the female perspective. And it should be noted that I’ve never actually read a Judy Blume book, nor have I heard about her until “Scrubs” made a snide joke about it. So my knowledge of Blume and her impact on the masses who read her books is limited. That being said, after watching Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, I have a newfound respect for what her timeless books have done in helping guide their readers to understand that they are not alone.
Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret stirs up important conversations about the confusion that comes with growing up, changing bodies, and finding our identities. So while the film doesn’t explicitly explain everything in detail, though it doesn’t shy away from what happens during menstruation, it does help its audience feel empowered to navigate through life knowing that everything will be okay or ask questions without feeling judged.
In the film, Abby Ryder Fortson plays Margaret Simon, a sixth grader who starts her new school year with her parents, Barbara and Herb Simon (Rachel McAdams and Benny Safdie, respectively), moving from their home in New York City to the New Jersey suburbs. It’s quite a jarring experience to leave the only life she knew behind. And it doesn’t help that her adoring grandmother Sylvia (Kathy Bates) over-dramatizes the situation with hyperbolic hypotheticals.
Luckily, the move is painless, and Margaret quickly makes friends with the overly intense Nancy (Elle Graham), along with her fellow pals Gretchen (Katherine Kupferer) and Janie (Amari Alexis Price). But her new home brings up further questions and thoughts about growing up. Something she may not have been privy to before her move. As such, Margaret lives through a series of events in her prepubescent life that can be considered confusing and perplexing.
Nancy pushes the members of her secret club to be women as quickly as possible, though she doesn’t know what’s in store for her. Peer pressure forces Margaret and her friends to become a part of something that simply cannot be rushed. She is forced to wear a bra and perform exercises to increase their bust size. She is told which boys she should be kissing. She is even pressured into treating people like Laura (Isol Young), an isolated girl because she hit puberty earlier than others, like an outcast. All the while being told that getting your period last is the worst possible thing for you. So the film explores finding your identity, the toxicity of peer pressure, and what happens when you lie through Margaret’s perspective.
Throughout these confusing times, Margaret turns to prayer in hopes that she can find the answers that she has been looking for. Though it may feel as though these prayers fall on deaf ears, She doesn’t have a formal religion. Raised by two parents who practice different religions, they never pressured her to practice one faith. With so many questions about growing up, boys, and living with two parents raised by two different religious backgrounds, things get a little complicated when her teacher assigns her a project about her living situation. As such, she has turned to the last person we’d think of, God.
Margret’s conversations start with the titular question. It’s less of a form of prayer and more of a form of communication with someone who doesn’t respond. She is open to the idea of speaking to a higher power. This makes it much harder to watch when she realizes that the lack of responses creates a feeling of loneliness. Margaret doesn’t have anyone to turn to and feels God is the only one she can talk to. She feels disappointed when she finds out Nancy lied about getting her period. She’s even frustrated that her parents had to cancel her trip to Flordia to visit her Grandma Sylvia when Barabra’s estranged parents come to visit – they wind up fighting about whether or not Margret is a Christian in front of Herb and Grandma Sylvia, both of whom are Jewish. These are the other topics of conversations Margaret is comfortable having with God, even though it can feel like he isn’t listening. Ultimately, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret is about being heard.
And much of that revolves around Margaret’s relationship with her doting parents, particularly the one between herself and her mother. Fortson and McAdams are a terrific duo, with the former as our guide during those difficult times. There’s a bit of nostalgia in her performance as one remembers what it was like to be so carefree but also so confusing. However, she doesn’t have to navigate through the storm of adolescence alone, as her mother is there to offer the support she needs. The film even gives some space to watch Barbara grow as she too has to find her place from a struggling artist and domestic body to a working person who rejects PTA roles by snobby parents. Above all, she is a proud mother and wife to two wonderful people. She would absolutely defend them at a moment’s notice. There’s even a scene of vulnerability for Barbara where Margaret inadvertently brings up traumas between herself and her parents, who couldn’t accept a daughter marrying a man outside their Christian faith. And Craig writes the delicate scene with respect, with Fortson and McAdams, along with Safdie and Bates executing the scene with a deft and emotionally nuanced performance.
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is an uplifting piece of filmmaking that tells audiences (or at least reminds the older ones) that growing up is very messy, but everything will be okay. It’s a coming-of-age film that removes the stigmatization of periods by openly discussing how normal the biological rite of passage is for young girls to become women. We see how Margaret struggles to come to her own, as all kids do during the transitional phase. But we also see her thrive when she eventually finds her identity through prayer and true friendships.