Terrific Throwback: Our Review of ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - May 02, 2023
Terrific Throwback: Our Review of ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’

In 1970, author Judy Blume published what would become probably the most famous (and to many, the most meaningful) of her books.  While beloved by some, it was also banned in some regions. This ban came because of the way it deals with religion and discussed puberty and menstruation.  So perhaps in the midst of a new wave of book banning in the U.S. and politicians trying to stop girls from receiving education about their periods, the film adaptation of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is right on time.

While Blume received offers over the years to adapt the novel, it wasn’t until writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig (The Edge of Seventeen) came along that the project happened.  It clearly couldn’t have been in better hands.  Set in the same year the book was published, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is a faithful adaptation full of nostalgic details, from the exact blender my mother had on the kitchen counter, to the Highlights magazine that sits in the rack by the door.  It has the costumes, hairstyles, cars and kitchen appliances setting this film firmly in the 70’s. And yet, it is a timeless tale, one that speaks to generations.

Margaret (Abby Ryder Forston) is soon to turn twelve, and she returns from summer camp. Her parents Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and Herb (Benny Safdie) inform her that she is moving from New York City to New Jersey.  This is much to the dismay of her grandmother Sylvia (a scene stealing Kathy Bates). She promptly laments that she will never see her granddaughter again since she’s crossing state lines.  Margaret is faced with what seems like an insurmountable challenge. So she asks God to do something to prevent her from having to move.  Or, at least to make New Jersey not so bad.

As she settles in to her new home, she’s introduced to new friends. Most notably of them is Nancy Wheeler (Elle Graham) who invites Margaret to join her very small, private club.  The four young girls meet to talk about boys and bras (they must increase their bust!). And together, they make a pact to share when each gets their period, something they all seem obsessed about.  Margaret asks God to help her out with that too.  Through it all, Freemon Craig plunges you straight into all the anxieties and insecurities of adolescence as Margaret navigates that strange space between childhood and adulthood.

That’s not the only thing that tears at Margaret though.  She also feels out of place in the spiritual realm.  With her father being Jewish and her mother Christian, her parents decided that she should choose for herself when she’s an adult.  She feels that push and pull between religions. Margaret’s friends seem all in a race to grow up. Similarly, she adds this to the list of things she needs to quickly figure out to feel like her identity is complete.  She tries out temple with her grandmother, she dances to the gospel choir at her friend’s church.  Nothing feels right.  Not in her spiritual journey nor in her desire for puberty to hit.  Somewhere in her one-sided conversations with God are Margaret’s answers.

Fremon Craig places her trust rightfully in Abby Ryder Forston as Margaret (you may recognize her as young Cassie in 2015’s Antman and its 2018 sequel).  The success of this film truly rides on whether or not the person playing our protagonist can encapsulate the innocent curiosity of Margaret with grace. And she absolutely shines.  Her scenes with McAdams are particularly well done. They captures the warmth of their relationship even through the inevitable awkwardness that the tween years bring. McAdams is not the lead here. And yet, the film gives Barbara enough of her own arc of self-realization to give the actor some memorable screen time.  Her chemistry with Safdie, who is nothing short of adorable as Herb, will bring a smile to anyone’s face.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is the movie I wish I could have seen with my mom when I was a middle schooler, and I feel like it will be essential mother-daughter viewing now. It has something for the young women in the crowd. It assures them they are not alone in their insecurities and curiosity about their own bodies and the world around them.

And it has something for those of us a few years older, and a good many menstrual cycles in. For them, it serves as a reminder of how fragile, scary and yet exciting a time it truly was.  A time when every little thing that went wrong meant the end of the world as we knew it. But also, a time of endless possibilities.  No matter your age, this film is full of empathy, heartfelt and honest. And it’s an important reminder that a little kindness never goes out of fashion.

  • Release Date: 4/28/2023
This post was written by
Hillary is a Toronto based writer, though her heart often lives in her former home of London, England. She has loved movies for as long as she can remember, though it was seeing Jurassic Park as a kid that really made it a passion. She has been writing about film since 2010 logging plenty of reviews and interviews since then, especially around festival season. She has previously covered the London Film Festival, TIFF (where she can often be found frantically running between venues) and most recently Sundance (from her couch). She is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics. When she’s not watching films or writing about them, she can be found at her day job as a veterinarian. Critic and vet is an odd combination, but it sure is a great conversation starter at an interview or festival!
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