Adapting what is arguably Judy Blume’s most recognizable work evokes a certain fear that it will not live up to the book’s reputation. Director Kelly Fremon Craig, also known for “The Edge of Seventeen,” takes on the arduous task of creating the film adaptation of the sacred “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” and was met with overwhelmingly positive reception. Released to theaters on Apr. 28, critics and the general audience yielded high ratings towards the mid-budget film, earning high 90s for its score on Rotten Tomatoes. Amidst starvation for a young teen film, the beyond positively received “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” presents a well-executed and poignant narrative fueled by the tension of religious conflict and the stress of growing up as a sixth grader.
“Please help me, God. Don’t let New Jersey be too horrible. Thank you,” was the internal monologue of protagonist Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) when she unhappily learns that her quirky, interreligious parents, Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and Herb (Benny Safdie) are planning to move the family from the bustling Manhattan to the suburban New Jersey. The young Margaret not only leaves her friends and familiar city but also her charming and fun grandmother, Sylvia Simon (Kathy Bates). After the move, Margaret is taken in by the charismatic tyrant Nancy Wheeler (Elle Graham) and sets sail on a journey of prepubescent womanhood. With a vapid desire to grow up and figure out whether she wants to be Jewish or Christian, the story of Margaret in “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is one of finding yourself in the tumultuous age of 11.
The narrative approaches the sensitive topic of puberty with comedic levity. The film hits the theme of adolescence rhythmically, sporting short scenes of armpit hair and longer scenes featuring the horrors of menstruation and the excitement of liking boys. The light tone of this film does well to undercut any discomfort that is usually imbued within topics such as sex and periods. Viewers can expect to enjoy the terrors of being 11 during 1970 while being treated to lighthearted jokes and low-stakes shenanigans.
The aesthetics of the film also serve the light tone insofar as infusing the big screen with consistently bright colors. The clothes and classrooms embody a cheery theme that transports its older audiences back into the days of sixth grade. The set design and visual editing were impressively coordinated to accompany the plot.
The highlight of the film is indubitably the performance of Fortson as Margaret. In her portrayal, the sense of a hungry curiosity of adolescence fused with a deep confusion in religious viewpoints is executed incredibly well. The innocent and naive character Margaret is only strengthened when met with Nancy Wheeler as her formidable foil. Their dynamic serves to drive the narrative to ridiculous scenarios like unnecessarily buying uncomfortable bras or playing spin-the-bottle for a chance to kiss their crushes. The challenges of attention being brought to young developing bodies and making friends through gossip and secrets heighten the immersion into the 11-year-old characters.
The side characters of the film all bring something with their quirky characteristics, as well. The bohemian Barbara finding her place in a suburban neighborhood complements Margaret’s desire to fit in and the two storylines intertwine and complete each other. Sylvia, the grandmother, also provides a certain charm that partners with Margaret very well, cementing them as a lovable duo. Herb’s portrayal as a lighthearted and fun dad, on the other hand, didn’t produce any meaningful interactions with the other character and felt like he was not in on the joke for most of the movie.
Verdict: Overall, the movie is an incredibly well-crafted coming-of-age story. With the horrors of growing up traversing along the vehicle that is Margaret’s fun antics and shenanigans, Kelly Craig’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is worth every penny to watch in theaters.