Review: ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’

Abby Ryder Fortson Leads Kelly Fremon Craig’s Masterful Judy Blume Adaptation

In the ever growing canon of young adult novels to film adaptations, there was always one classic book missing from the screen: Jody Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Published originally in 1970, the coming of age story – which dealt with first periods, boys, frenemies, and religious questions – evaded moviegoers for over 50 years, mainly due to Blume’s own wishes. Now in an ever growing climate of book bans and conversations around women’s issues, Lionsgate and Edge of Seventeen director Kelly Fremon Craig bring the titular Margaret, her friends and family to theaters, delivering laughter and nostalgia along the way in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

The film takes place over the course of one  ‘60s/70s school  year, where Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) is living in her new home in New Jersey with her parents after moving from New York City. Her mother, Barbara (Rachel McAdams), is a stay-at-home mom who is estranged from her own ultra-conservative Christian parents due to marrying Herb (Benny Safdie), who is Jewish. Margaret has a strong relationship with grandmother (Kathy Bates), who is living alone back in the city with very little socialization. 

Early on in the year, we see her make friends with neighbor Nancy Wheeler. While she’s bossy and reactive, she takes Maragret under wing and introduces the newcomer to her friend group. The girls form a secret club where they wear bras, shoes with no socks, and must tell each other their crushes. Margaret soon struggles to find her voice and backbone with her friends, one that she uses more with her mother, awkwardly telling her she has to get a bra and not wear socks.

As Margaret struggles to find her footing in both her new town and in adolescence, she starts exploring the idea of a higher power, exploring both her Jewish and Christian backgorunds and talking to God herself. The largest challenge writer/director had with adapting the novel is finding a way Margaret can talk directly to a higher power. In a book, it’s easy as she addresses him straight on, but in a film, this means voice-over. The narrative device doesn’t fully work, feeling at times too thin and too much at others. 

Despite that, Abby Ryder Fortson, who played Cassie Lang in the first two Ant-Man films, captures the confused and emotional beats that drive Margaret. Her performance never crosses the line into “Disney School of Acting”, instead acting instep with the more subtle and gentle performance of Rachel McAdams and the more boisterous Kathy Bates. 

I’m paraphrasing, but Eighth Grade director Bo Burnham said that the plot of his film might not seem exciting when spelled out on paper, but as long as the audience’s heartbeat aligns with the main character, those everyday moments can feel huge. With Fremon Craig’s writing and directing, you are able to ride the highs and lows of early female adolescence along with Margaret, recalling your own “firsts” and landmark life moments along the way. Her previous film, The Edge of Seventeen perfectly captured the often ugly and crippling angst that rules the later teen years. Margaret proves that the writer/director has a deep and empathetic understanding of the young female experience, not only giving her lead a voice but the adult women one as well. If she keeps this up, she could leave a cinematic legacy akin to John Hughes. 

Overall, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is a joy to watch. With a beating heart and big emotions, it’s hard not to get swept up in the nostalgia of both the time period and the age. If we had to wait 50 years to get a good adaptation of Judy Blume’s masterpiece, it was well worth it.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is in theaters now.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.'
A D.C area native, Cortland has been interested in media since birth. Taking film classes in high school and watching the classics with family instilled a love of film in Cortland’s formative years. Before graduating with a degree in English and minoring in Film Study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Cortland ran the college’s radio station, where she frequently reviewed films on air. She then wrote for another D.C area publication before landing at Punch Drunk Critics. Aside from writing and interviewing, she enjoys podcasts, knitting, and talking about representation in media.
review-are-you-there-god-its-me-margaretStaying true to Judy Blume's iconic book of the same name, 'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.' captures the wonder and intensity of growing up.