I was not a reader of Judy Blume’s books when I was a young person, because, unfortunately, I was a little snob who went to the library and found the biggest book on the shelf in the children’s section. It turns out that while I read Robin Hood, I missed an awful lot.
Fifty years after Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret hit bookshelves, Blume finally released the film rights for a faithful, lovable adaptation written and directed by Kelly Fermon Craig. In this classic tale of adolescence, Margaret (Abby Ryder Forston) moves with her parents—Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and Herb (Benny Safdie)—to New Jersey, leaving her distraught grandmother—Slyvia (Kathy Bates)—behind in New York City. Desperate to fit in and full of questions about puberty, Margaret starts talking to God about the move, her new friends—Nancy (Elle Graham), Janie (Amari Price), and Gretchen (Katherine Mallen Kupferer)—and all her questions.
At turns touching and painfully awkward, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret takes seriously the concerns of a sixth-grader trying to choose her religion while fervently praying that she will get her period. The writing skillfully places Margaret in the context of her classmates as well as her family so that the hilarity of her secret club meetings can be balanced with the seriousness of her family’s tense relationship with religion, allowing both elements to evolve organically. It was startling to this elder millennial that Rachel McAdams of Mean Girls fame played the mother, but I identified with her the most as she struggles to fit in in the suburbs without losing her creative self.
The ensemble of actors brings this complicated family to life with warmth and a wonderful sense of humor. As Grandma Sylvia, Kathy Bates nearly overdoes it but gives the character’s wit such charm that I was always delighted when she barged in. As Margaret, Abby Ryder Forston skillfully carries the bulk of the film’s drama and comedy, playing Margaret’s angst with an authentic earnestness that is absolutely necessary. Her Margaret is smart and sensitive, but also, essentially, eleven-years-old.
Judy Blume was right to entrust Kelly Fermon Craig with the film rights to her beloved novel. The quality of the writing shines through the outstanding performances, beautiful sets and wardrobe, and awesome soundtrack.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was directed and written by Kelly Fremon Craig, based on the novel by Judy Blume. It runs 106 minutes and is rated PG-13.
On Amazon Prime, Judy Blume Forever tells the story of Blume’s life and career while examining the impact of her books on readers and in American culture. Judy Blume’s sweet personality draws the audience into her story, while interviews with Young Adult authors create a dialogue about her legacy. To me, the most memorable part is the inclusion of Blume’s extensive correspondence with young readers, including two women who wrote to her throughout their lives. As touching as these two anecdotes were, they also spoke profoundly to Blume’s dedication more broadly to the people she wrote for and the trust they placed in her, even as adults sought to keep her books out of young hands.
Although her writing is important, Blume’s playful tone keeps the movie from tripping into hagiography and the directors are smart to include discussions of whether or not Blume’s work is perhaps dated alongside takedowns of those who would censor her. Paired with bright colors, comical interviews, and a timely story, Judy Blume Forever makes a fitting companion to a trip to see Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret but it also stands on its own.
Judy Blume Forever was directed by Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok. It runs for 97 minutes and is rated 16+.
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