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Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig
Produced by James L. Brooks, Amy Brooks, Julie Ansell, Richard Sakai, Kelly Fremon Craig, Judy Blume, and Aldric La'auli Porter
Screenplay by Kelly Fremon Craig Based on the novel by Judy Blume
With: Abby Ryder Fortson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Benny Safdie, Elle Graham, Amari Alexis Price, Katherine Mallen Kupferer, Kate MacCluggage, Aidan Wojtak-Hissong, Landon S. Baxter, Mackenzie Joy Potter, and Olivia Williams
Cinematography: Tim Ives
Editing: Nick Moore and Oona Flaherty
Music: Hans Zimmer
Runtime: 106 min
Release Date: 28 April 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

When I learned there would be a contemporary studio film made of Judy Blume's classic grade-school novel Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, I shuddered. How would the various societal forces that infect everything these days distort that wonderful and simple material? But when I learned the adaptation would be written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig and produced by James L. Brooks, I breathed a sigh of relief. The team that created the modest gem that is The Edge of Seventeen (2016) would probably get Blume right. And they did. For one thing, they do not update Blume's 1970s story to contemporary times, something that unfortunately seems almost mandatory for modern adaptations of beloved books from past decades in order to appeal to the largest possible demographic. Secondly, fully committed to their 1970s setting, Craig, production designer Steve Saklad, and legendary costume designer Ann Roth don't make the second most common mistake by rendering the period as a caricature of itself, with everyone in bellbottoms playing with mood rings. The look of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret feels as specific and accurate to its era as the behavior of the characters, the way the themes are expressed, and every other choice in this delightful and substantial picture.

The story centers on 11-year-old Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson), who returns home from summer camp to her New York City apartment and immediately learns that her parents are moving her away from everything familiar and relocating to the suburbs of New Jersey. That means that Margaret will be navigating the unfamiliar territory of a new school and new friend group right at the time she's dealing with all the changes that come with puberty. Additionally, leaving the city means distancing herself from her adoring Jewish grandmother, Sylvia (Kathy Bates). To fill this void, Margaret turns to God the way many adolescents do, asking "Him" to intervene personally on her behalf and smooth out the rocky road of teenagehood. But her relationship with God is a bit confused since her Christian mom (Rachel McAdams) and Jewish dad (Benny Safdie) are no fans of organized religion, for good reason.

Craig, Fortson, and the rest of the young cast bring the chapters of Blume's novel to vivid life in ways that feel authentic and human. We're not left watching these girls from a reserved distance. We're in their classrooms, living rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms with them as they anticipate and attempt to prepare for their transitions into adulthood in all the ways kids did before the internet. The biggest change in this adaptation is that the mother, played to perfection by Rachel McAdams, is more centralized than in the book, where she's deeply sympathetic but only really seen in relation to what Margaret is experiencing. In the movie, Barbara's own transition from urban career woman to suburban stay-at-home mom is fleshed out in ways that capture how the expectations of adult women in the 1970s were changing as rapidly as those of their daughters. McAdams brings this theme to the forefront without ever taking over the story. The mother's accompanying narrative provides the context for the more immediate and (at least to Margaret's eyes) higher-stakes concerns of the daughter. Margaret is dealing with the nuts and bolts of what it means to be a woman, while Barbara's struggles with womanhood are more existential.

The ways these two story threads complement each other illustrate Craig's skill as a writer/director. She fully commits to telling Blume's story accurately to the tone of the era that birthed the novel, simultaneously creating a film that will hold as much appeal to Gen-Xers like me who grew up reading the book as to the current tweens and teens whom this movie is aimed. One could argue that the picture holds more appeal to those my age than to modern kids, but I don't think that's accurate. The film is clearly made for mothers and daughters to see together, but its appeal should extend beyond that (as it did to me, who is neither a mother nor a daughter, or even a parent). This is exactly the type of movie that I would have watched well over twenty times in my adolescence—with my parents, with friends, and alone. In today's climate, where so many young people reject anything remotely “cringy", and in view of the shockingly successful regressive political movement to undo all the gains women have made over the past fifty years, a movie that deals this frankly with matters like menstruation, the longing of young girls for the onset of adulthood, and the search for spiritual connection, is no small feat. It's kind of a miracle that the resulting picture is something most modern parents and kids could actually watch together without feeling so awkward they'd disconnect from the story.

Again, the choice to set the film in the '70s feels key to that success. That this story about getting your first period is set during such a specific time period provides just enough distance for kids to view it as from a different era while still relating to everything depicted, and just enough nostalgia for adults to relate it to their own experiences as much as that of their children. Thus, this movie feels far more universal than so many studio pictures that desperately try to provide "something for everyone" and end up with a result that only connects on a shallow surface or purely intellectual level. The specificity of everything in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. makes this movie feel like a lived experience.

Twitter Capsule:

Making no false moves, Craig follows up on the promise of her first film and proves to be the ideal person to helm the long-awaited adaptation of Blume’s beloved ‘70s YA novel.