"Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, does feel slightly old-fashioned but it flourishes through this traditionalism."
BY JOHN MCDONALD MAY 27, 2023
Will we ever get tired of watching simple in-nature, coming-of-age films? Will they ever cease to exist? The changing of the world proves that there will always be a market for such films. But a potential breakaway from the traditional blueprint is the film Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, the highly anticipated adaptation of Judy Blume’s 1970 classic novel of the same name. On the surface, it might seem like just another adolescent story that’s sweet in nature and quirky with its humour, but if you’ve ever read (or even know about) Blume’s highly revered book, then you will know that this film version also aimed to explore themes of faith, early teenage anxieties involving menstruation, brassieres and of course, boys.
The novel’s evolution was placed into the safe hands of Kelly Fremon Craig, who is known for writing and directing the 2016 coming-of-age dramedy The Edge of Seventeen. It is built on the same foundations as many of its contemporaries, so watch out for the same cliches and concepts that you’d expect to find in something like this. The story involves eleven-year-old Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson), who has just spent the summer at camp and looks forward to settling back into her life as a young New Yorker. Margaret’s parents, Barbara and Herb (Rachel McAdams and Benny Safdie) have other ideas though as they decide to relocate to suburban New Jersey for a better way of life. Margaret leaves her friends, her school, and more importantly her Grandma Sylvia (Kathy Bates) behind to begin this scary new beginning.
Although her grandma and mother are often in combat with one another, the love and support that Margaret receives from them is undeniable and becomes critical to her acclimatising to these new surroundings. Margaret also befriends Nancy (Elle Graham) a
neighbouring girl of the same age; think of her as a mini Regina George from Mean Girls (played by a certain Rachel McAdams as well might we add), and joins her group of friends as a means of fitting in, even if it does mean she can’t wear socks with her shoes – the blisters, just think of the blisters, her mother did warn her. Margaret and her friends being to ask questions about identity, they partake in early sexual experiences, and become curious about adulthood and the exploration of their own bodies - it’s an awful lot to absorb and incredibly intense at that: why do kids want to grow up so badly, they’ll regret it when they're older.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret isn’t all about fancying boys and adolescent exploration though, the main theme for primary focus is its study of religion. The question of “what is faith?” and the idea of religion all stem from the original author’s upbringing in an interfaith, Christian/Jewish household, and Margaret experiences the positives and the negatives that these influences can have on a person. The projection of religion in film can often be stricken by the confides of sensitivity, but in this iteration, it is effortlessly genuine and respectful. Several faiths go under the microscope; no stone is left unturned, and it really does make for interesting viewing.
The film's star is undoubtedly Abby Ryder Fortson; she steals most of the scenes that she appears in and for someone so young (and with a cast that is stacked fairly high) that is no easy feat. The film is mainly youth-led, and Ryder Fortson isn’t the only talented youth on show. All these young actors deliver incredibly assured performances; so full of promise and confidence, but with an element of playfulness (which should go without saying) that elevates the realism. But we can’t forget Rachel McAdam's sterling performance as Barbara though, a character who is going through her own identity crisis while trying to be the glue that holds the family together. Could this be the beginning of a new matriarchal chapter in McAdam's already-established acting career? We’re here for it if so.
This isn’t a film that will blow you away by any means, it’s just a good quality film that doesn’t do much wrong, and that’s all you can ask for. It ticks all the boxes it needs to and never digresses or dips into the territory of poor quality. It has been praised for being incredibly truthful to the book (which is not always the case), but for also going one step further and fleshing out the adult characters too, something it will be remembered for as an improvement to the book. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, does feel slightly old-fashioned but it flourishes through this traditionalism. It is a film that young girls everywhere should watch, with every mother should join them too, so they can all learn about each other the same way the characters in the film did.