I'm a sucker for a good coming-of-age story, and "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" is a great one.
With focus, authenticity and a better-than-expected cast, this is a crowd-pleaser that will withstand the test of time, much like the book that it's based on.
Margaret Simon (the wonderful break-out, Abby Ryder Fortson) is just 11-years-old when she returns from Summer camp to the Earth-shattering news: Her dad, Herb (Benny Safdie) and mother, Barbara (Rachel McAdams) are moving the family from their small apartment in NYC across the river to New Jersey. This not only upends Margaret's life, but it pulls her further away from her over-dramatic grandmother, Sylvia (Kathy Bates), whom she has had a very close relationship with.
As if this time period in a girl's life wasn't tumultuous enough, Margaret is about to get a crash-course on womanhood, boys and bras.
It doesn't take Margaret long to make new friends. The rambunctious and outgoing Nancy Wheeler (Elle Graham) recruits Margaret into her secret club, where you mustn't wear socks and who secretly pine over the cute boy in class. Margaret gets her first crush on Moose (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong), a friend of Nancy's sister who ends up cutting the Simon's grass. Margaret doesn't miss a chance to watch Moose do his work.
The classic novel by famed author Judy Blume was and is slightly controversial, for its frank, head-on discussion of topics such as menstruation and religion. The book was released in 1970 and was a major hit with middle-schoolers. The movie doesn't look to change things all that much (why mess with what isn't broken?). And it passes on the opportunity to adapt this novel into modern times...there is a charm and an innocence to the story that would have been lost had it been set in a world reliant on selfies and TikTok videos. That being said, the characters, the struggles and the messages are so universal, it really defies any specific time period.
Filmmaker Kelly Fremon Craig is emerging as a master of on-screen adolescence. Her debut 2016 film, "The Edge of Seventeen," perfectly encapsulated that time period, and most likely earned her the job of helming this adaptation. There's a reason that it's taken over 50 years for this book to be made into a movie, but Kelly Fremon Craig was clearly the right person for the job.
Beyond the young break-outs - Abby Ryder Fortson and the wonderful Elle Graham at the forefront - Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates are so incredible in their roles...perhaps better than their written characters even deserved. McAdams especially, brings such nuance and heart to a two-dimensional character, that she infuses the movie with even more gravitas than the book warrants. Margaret will figure things out, like we all have had to do, but Mom's undying love is what really is the unspoken and unseen force of the film.
The story of course has some religious undertones. A Jewish father and a Catholic mother, Margaret does not have a religious affiliation, despite her constant conversations with God ("Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret" is a phrase used throughout the film to depict Margaret's inner-wants and needs as she tries to navigate her way through the sixth grade). Margaret's mother though - all but abandoned by her own parents for marrying a Jewish person - is determined to love her child no matter what. Isn't a mother's love as pure and as holy as it gets? Margaret is loved unconditionally by her mother and perhaps by a higher spirit, echoing the religious beliefs of many.
"Are You There God? It's Me Margaret" is relatable to women and men alike, and it is so effective as an authentic slice-of-life dramedy. It doesn't look to tell Margaret's entire life story, nor does it conclude with Margaret having figured everything out. A nitpick, but a subplot between Margaret and her teacher (Echo Kellum) feels a bit undercooked. But as an adaptation, could there have been a more impactful version of this story?
Are you There Oscars? It's me, "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret."
This is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable movies of 2023 so far and one of the easiest and purest recommendations I can make.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes.
Starring: Abby Ryder Fortson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Benny Safdie, Elle Graham, Katherine Mallen Kupferer, Amari Alexis Price, Aidan Wojtak-Hissong, Echo Kellum, Simms May, Isol Young.
Based on the book by Judy Blume.
Adapted by and Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig ("The Edge of Seventeen").
"Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" is in theaters on Friday, April 28th, 2023.
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