Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret (2023) Movie Review – Growing up is hard to do

Growing up is hard to do

If you go see Kelly Fremon Craig’s sophomore feature, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, in theaters, you’ll likely be treated to a short introductory reading by Judy Blume of her original book. For those who (like me) grew up on Blume’s children’s books, I don’t have to tell you what a nostalgic delight that is. Are You There God? has impacted generations since its release in 1970 with its sensitive portrayal of the spiritual searching that goes on in one’s adolescence. I think the film adaptation of the coming-of-age drama will be just as resonant.

I didn’t grow up on Are You There God? specifically–like many others, my parents opted for the less controversial of Blume’s works to give me. Margaret’s story has faced extensive book bans for its frank discussion of menstruation and the allowance it gives its protagonist to question God and faith. Fortunately, Craig embraces these themes in her adaptation wholeheartedly and sympathetically, even enriching the story to give voice to more characters.

We’re introduced to 11-year-old Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) via a quick montage of her time at summer camp. She’s happy and carefree, excited to return to her mom Barbara (Rachel McAdams), her dad Herb (Benny Safdie) and grandma Sylvia (Kathy Bates) in New York City, and to start the new school year. But her parents have other plans, and they’ve already enacted them without her.

Soon enough, Margaret is moving to New Jersey, where she’s confronted with living farther from her grandma, getting used to a new school, and making new friends. She also desperately wants to be normal–to get her period and feel like a woman. It’s a turbulent time in her life that sees her reaching out to God and thinking more deeply about religion for the first time. Her family complicates her spiritual search, however. Her mom grew up Christian; her dad grew up Jewish. Her grandparents have strong opinions about what religion she should choose, and her parents don’t want her to choose until she’s grown up.

Margaret just wishes to be grown up already, and a lot of her experiences in the movie (from going bra-shopping to having her first kiss) are wrapped up in this desire, which is to not be laughed at or belittled, but to show Margaret as someone who is changing and maturing, and who has the capability of forming her own thoughts and opinions. While Margaret’s coming-of-age experiences are handled with a sense of humor (there are so many funny moments in the film), Craig employs these with empathy for the raw realness of Margaret’s experiences. At every step, she brings us, along with Margaret’s family, on a journey to accept the personhood and agency of the 11-year-old.

While Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret particularly champions the autonomy of adolescents, it deeply cares about the freedom of everyone to make their own choices. One way Craig improves upon Blume’s book is by expanding on the character of Barbara as someone who must also work to accept that whom she marries, what she believes, and what she wants to do with her life are all valid desires. McAdams holds all of this beautifully and tumultuously within her performance to make Barbara a well-rounded character whose storyline Craig incorporates skillfully alongside Margaret’s.

In Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, everyone is allowed their own spiritual experiences. Craig submits that spirituality can encompass more than just religion, especially at a time in one’s life where everything is so turbulent and constantly changing. Margaret is in an auditorium setting in several scenes: for church, for synagogue, for a play, for a sex education class. Each evokes religiosity whether the setting is strictly religious or not. Each time, Margaret comes away with something different. These learning, growing experiences might be spiritual to her in different ways, but that’s for the adolescent to work out for herself.

The point, in the end, isn’t what religion Margaret chooses, but the idea that she should get to choose. I think that–just as Blume’s book deeply moved me when I read it last year, and impacted thousands before me–this kindness and open-mindedness in Craig’s adaptation of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret will also resonate across generations.


Read More: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Movie Review

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  • Verdict - 9/10

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