“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is one of the first books I remember reading where I felt like the author really understood what it was like to be me. Judy Blume’s beloved book has been considered a rite of passage for many young girls, and the pressure of adapting the work for the screen had to be enormous for writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig. Thankfully, the film does the source material justice, creating a timeless coming-of-age story that brings the classic book to life.
Sixth grader Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) is 11 when she is unexpectedly uprooted from her life in New York City to the suburbs of New Jersey. Her mom Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and dad Herb (Benny Safdie) assure her that she will make new friends and get a fresh start at school. Margaret doesn’t want to move away from her loving grandma (Kathy Bates) either, who constantly reminds the family that she’s unhappy they’ve moved so far away. While her mom has difficulty adjusting to her new role as a homemaker, Margaret is quickly accepted by neighbor Nancy (Elle Graham) into her secret club for girls with fellow classmates Gretchen (Katherine Mallen Kupferer) and Janie (Amari Alexis Price). They meet after school to talk about the important things: boys, getting their periods, and their developing bodies.
The film stays mostly true to Blume’s original work, with a few potentially problematic things omitted and others added to build more drama. The novel heavily discusses religion, as Margaret’s mother was raised Christian and her father is Jewish, and the young girl struggles with finding a place where she belongs. Margaret prays to a god, but also asserts that she doesn’t believe in one. The film carries this theme well, and does not shy away from frank discussions about how religion divides people.
There are plenty of scenes about the ups and downs of puberty, one of the most confusing and taxing time in the life of an adolescent. The body shaming of classmate Laura (Isol Young) feels particularly relevant today, as does the instance when Margaret finally realizes that she’s become a bully herself and decides to change things.
Although I haven’t picked up the novel since I was 12 years old, certain scenes jolted the deepest recesses of my memory. Craig includes the most celebrated parts of Blume’s book, including Margaret’s major crush on neighborhood boy Moose (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong), bra shopping with mom, and perhaps the most famous of them all, “we must, we must, we must increase our bust!”
A minor criticism is that parts of the story feel rushed in favor of building a meatier history for the supporting characters. There’s a couple of new storylines that work well in the film, but sometimes it’s a tradeoff that feels unnecessary. In one of her smartest moves in dealing with the screen adaptation, Craig wisely keeps the story set in 1970, just like the original. It lends a heavy dose of nostalgia that takes you back to a time of innocence, an era without iPhones or the internet. I’m certain the film wouldn’t work as well if it took place in present day, and I’m so happy that the studio didn’t try to modernize the story. (Here’s hoping the timeless tale will still resonate with preteens today).
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” takes an enduring classic and turns it into a sweet, wholesome movie about growing up, the value of friendship, the support that comes from a loving family, and the very real struggle to find a sense of belonging in this world. It’s uplifting, perfectly cast, and accurately captures the most awkward time in a young girl’s life. In other words, it expresses the essence of Judy Blume’s most famous work.
By: Louisa Moore