Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret Movie Review
Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret Movie Review Metadata
If there’s one universal author that nearly every femme child has read since the 1970s, it’s Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” (Bradbury Press, 1970). Even I read it and I was really more of “The Phantom Tollbooth” (Random House, 1961) reader. Director Kelly Fremon Craig literally had the weighty expectations of three generations of readers riding on her shoulders while bringing Margaret to the big screen in the ambitious and very sweet Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret (2023).
11-year old Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) returns from summer camp to discover her mom and dad are moving from their bustling borough in New York to the sprawling suburbs of New Jersey. She leaves behind her feisty grandmother, Sylvia (Kathy Bates), all of her friends, and of course, her school. As she settles in with new friends, well-heeled and sophisticated Nancy (Elle Graham), bespeckled Gretchen (Katherine Mallen Kupferer), and wee Janie (Amari Alexis Price), Margaret struggles to fit in with their constantly changing interests, crushes, and bodies. Puberty is fast approaching for Margaret, and while not religious, she is spiritual, questioning the only Higher power she knows (higher than Grandmother Sylvia, anyway). Mini monologues with God question if she’s ever going to get boobs or her period when all her friends seem to have both. Through the course of completing a school assignment, she questions and explores whether or not she has a religious identity. Her parents decided to give her the freedom to choose, and through her grandparents, she feels pulled between her Jewish paternal side and her Christian maternal side. While Margaret hunts for her true self with the awkward fumbling of any pre-teen, her mother Barbara (Rachel McAdams), also struggles to find that newly minted suburban balance of PTA, housekeeping, and friends.
This could easily be referred to as “that period movie,” but Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret drills into the innocence of being a 6th grader on the cusp of being an honest-to-goodness teenager. Set in the 1970s, it maintains the naivete of literally knowing nothing that couldn’t be cribbed from a borrowed magazine or overly professional textbook. It was hard not to watch and experience intense flashbacks of my own time in middle school. Jockeying for position within one’s social circle, catching the attention of the most popular boy in class, and losing friends, being the first to appear more grown-up. It also highlights the double standard that society places upon young girls. Margaret’s classmate, Laura Danker (Isol Young), is taller and more developed and suffers rumors about what she may or may not do with her body. In the race to appear older with bras and periods, they practically stumble into the biggest pitfall of growing up – the inability to be happy in one’s own skin.
While there are strong performances from nearly everyone, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret is not a perfect movie. Barbara involving herself in nearly every school-related activity to stave off loneliness isn’t as developed as it could be. The build up to the inter-faith battle between the grandparents feels forced and shoehorned in, despite it being the cornerstone of the film. We don’t learn enough about Barbara’s Christian parents, only that they disowned her when she married her Jewish husband, and when they visit, they spend literally only a few minutes on-screen. There are nearly as many minutes as pages in the book, but parts still felt a little thin. At a certain point, Margaret’s friends have drifted away and a more solid resolution could have been fleshed out.
Overall, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret succeeds in not dwelling on the cringe parts of being a pre-teen and instead revels in the joy of being a child. It doesn’t play girls’ bodies up for camp and it’s a movie where everyone can laugh with the characters, not at them. We don’t get many true family films, but it’s easy to see how this one can become a classic you’ll see with the kids more than once.
Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret (2023) is rated PG-13 (A TRAVESTY) because it discusses the female body, breasts, and periods in the frank way all 11-year-olds discuss their bodies.