Make Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret your priority watch this weekend
Judy Blume’s classic coming-of-age book Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. has been long beloved for its understanding of and care for the relatable experiences of its 11-year-old female protagonist and the relatable experiences she represents. Margaret Simon deals with a move and worries about getting her period and a bra.
Blume’s book understands that Margaret and generations of kids like her are at a tender age, awkwardly living with both the innocence of childhood and the oncoming changes of puberty and adolescence.
Kelly Fremon Craig’s adaptation of Blume’s novel, out this week, also understands Margaret and her emotions, and acknowledges that big changes take kids and parents alike on wild journeys. Craig’s loving portrayal of Margaret and her family is as tender, funny, and empathetic as the book it lovingly brings to the screen. If you have a tween girl in your life—or if you, like me, love seeing young women’s experiences thoughtfully depicted—consider it required viewing.
Set in the 1970s, the movie follows sixth grader Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) as she and her mom Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and dad Herb (Benny Safdie) move from Margaret’s beloved New York City to the New Jersey suburbs. Margaret immediately makes friends with her confident neighbor Nancy (Elle Graham), and her classmates Gretchen (Katherine Mallen Kupferer) and Janie (Amari Alexis Price). Barbara, an art teacher, is determined to make the switch to suburban stay-at-home mom and PTA member, but struggles with boundaries, and the pressures of homemaking and conformity.
Margaret also starts exploring religion for a school project, which turns out to be a fraught topic in the Simon household. Margaret is the child of an interfaith marriage—Barbara was raised Christian, Herb is Jewish—and her parents purposely raised her without religious affiliation. Barbara is estranged from her parents, who believed she’d go to hell for marrying Herb. Herb’s mother Sylvia (Kathy Bates), who’s very involved in Margaret’s life, hopes Margaret will embrace judaism. When Margaret expresses her curiosity about faith, her family’s intense reactions around it cause her even more anxiety.
Craig’s previous movie, the underappreciated The Edge of Seventeen, was big-hearted and darkly witty. Margaret is less acidic, but has a clear-eyed sense of humor about the issues it tackles. Margaret and her pals worry over who will get their period first and what it’s going to feel like, buying pads in anticipation and withering under the awkward gaze of the checkout boy. The girls get antsy about developing their boobs after finding Herb’s stack of Playboys (Herb, a sweet, supportive husband and dad who’s a product of his time, definitely vibes like a guy who subscribes “for the writing”). All of this is portrayed with playful, sunlit sincerity that takes the kids’ concerns seriously, but with the knowing smile of grown-up hindsight.
On a more serious note, Craig also thoughtfully considers Margaret’s religious concerns. The title comes from Margaret’s own occasional prayers in which she shares her fears, questions and triumphs with God, unsure if she’s getting an answer.
She follows Sylvia to synagogue, Nancy to an Episcopal church, and Janie to a Black Baptist church, all in an effort to figure out where she fits. When Barbara’s parents make an unexpected visit to make up with their daughter, the attempt to reach out goes horribly, leading Margaret to observe, “What I learned about religion is that it makes people fight. I pray and pray and things just keep getting worse.”
Amen and amen. The movie suggests, however, that this early experience is just the first step on a longer, richer journey for Margaret.
Bright, joyful and gentle, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. belongs to the great tradition of movies about girls growing up, cemented in the pantheon alongside My Girl, Now and Then, The Parent Trap and Lady Bird.
Craig honors the experiences of Margaret and her family as they try to navigate their new situation and changing identities together, with lovely results.
Movies like this one don’t get much attention theatrically these days, so consider this your call to action. Grab a daughter, niece, kid sister, young cousin or friend with a kid and make an outing of it. The laughter and conversation you’ll share will be worth it.