Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (2023) – Film Review

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Film Review

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Cast: Abby Ryder Fortson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates
Certificate: PG

By Sarah Morgan

I feel as if I missed out on the whole Judy Blume thing. While my female peers were delving into Forever, Blubber, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and all her other seminal works, I was lapping up Agatha Christie, The Thorn Birds and film star biographies.

Whether I’d have been better prepared for puberty and young adulthood if I’d read Blume rather than having an in-depth knowledge of Hercule Poirot’s cases, I’m not sure, but there’s no doubt that the New Jersey-born author, who’s now 85 years of age, is a touchstone for millions of women, girls and probably a few boys too.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Film Review

Blume first published Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, more than half a century ago, but it still resonates today – as was the case in 1970, pubescent girls are still struggling with big questions surrounding their changing bodies, menstruation and other such matters. The big surprise is that it’s taken so long for somebody to turn it into a movie.

“An absolute delight”

Thankfully, the resulting film, written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig and co-produced by the great James L Brooks, whose CV also includes The Simpsons, Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets, is an absolute delight.

At the centre of it all is Margaret Simon, played by Abby Ryder Fortson, one of the brightest, most natural child actors I’ve seen for a while. Margaret is a pleasant, well-adjusted 11-year-old and the story follows a year of her life after her parents uproot her from the only Manhattan home she’s ever known to suburban New Jersey, taking her away from her beloved grandmother Sylvia.

Margaret immediately finds new friends within a small gang (or secret club, as they prefer to be known) led by the forthright Nancy. Over several months, we see them dealing with the usual confusions surrounding growing up, as well as an increasing interest in the opposite sex.

Her teacher, the well-meaning and kindly Mr Benedict, informs her class that everyone must embark on a year-long research project on a subject of their own choosing. Following a comment she made on a questionnaire at the start of the school year, he suggests Margaret’s should be about religion. Margaret’s father is Jewish, her mother was raised Catholic, but neither have imposed their faith on their daughter, preferring to let her make her own mind up when she’s old enough.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Film Review

“Wonderfully uncynical”

Margaret spends a lot of time asking God for assistance with difficult matters, and finally discovers why she has never met her maternal grandparents – they disowned her mother when she married a Jewish man. The youngster’s spiritual battle could have been rather heavy-handed and dominated proceedings, but as with many of the issues covered, it’s dealt with intelligently, but often with humour – just as Blume intended. The film has also kept the book’s late-1960s, early-1970s setting, so, rather refreshingly, there are no noisy interruptions by social media, and the only mobiles you’re likely to see are the kind that dangle from the ceiling.

Fortson is surrounded by a group of excellent young actors, including Aidan Wojtak-Hissong as potential love interest Moose, who must surely be a shoo-in should an Art Garfunkel biopic ever be made. Rachel McAdams and Benny Safdie are Margaret’s likeable parents, while Kathy Bates steals every scene she’s in as Grandma Sylvia.

This is a wonderfully uncynical, sweet-natured and well-meaning production, one that if I had a young daughter, I would be urging her to see.

Lionsgate UK presents Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, on digital and on Blu-ray now

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