Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Judy Blume blazed a trail for women with the blunt coming-of-age drama in her celebrated novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It hasn’t hit the big screen before, but in an age where women’s bodily rights are becoming routinely violated and stripped away, a film like this feels needed now more than ever. Even for being placed in a dated setting, there’s an undeniable charm and sublime sensation of freedom that can be felt in this film.
The film follows the developing tween Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) and her quest to learn more about herself. Born from a couple with Christian and Jewish backgrounds, Margaret didn't know of religion with her agnostic parents while growing up in the 1970s. Having moved to New Jersey, she is intimidated by her new school. She forms a bond with some new friends, but the new club they establish requires a bra, which Margaret doesn't have much experience buying, let alone wearing. This leads to awkward yet essential conversations with her mother, reflecting how much times have changed.
Aside from making friends, Margaret’s goal is to learn more about religion, opting to attend church and temple. This is a grand delight for her eccentric grandmother Sylvia (Kathy Bates), but also concerning for her parents (Rachel McAdams, Benny Safdie), who had to deal with the religious split between their families. Through all this, Margaret tries to come to grips with her spirituality, which also happens to coincide with getting used to getting her period. As she soon learns, growing up is an act you can’t wholly prepare for, where merely stuffing a bra won’t suffice. For Margaret, these are the most eye-opening and important days of her life and it’s all approached with the open nature of jotting down all your sensational feelings in a diary.
This type of earnest comedy is so adorably hilarious for being highly relatable. A slew of moms will undoubtedly watch this film with a nod that accompanies each laugh. What makes the film work is that it doesn’t attempt to overly exaggerate or downplay the elements that made the book so strong. The topics of sex, religion, and menstruation are not off the table for trying to depict a frank version of growing up that isn’t a flowery or softened picture. But perhaps the most sobering moment of the story is watching Margaret view her parents as people who might not have all the answers and still be unsure of themselves. Having that moment of realization while better being able to connect with the previous generation is such a joyous sensation, and it's treated in this film with not only a sense of relatability but a tender nature of trying to ensure that no topic is off-limits for kids still trying to figure out this weird world of ours.
Of course, the most entertaining aspect of this story is that Margaret is a fully realized character. She doesn’t feel like a prop to provide a narrative on top of talking about the female body and spirit. She has a real existential crisis over how she forms her path of faith with the rocky road presented before her. She has moments where she’s underwhelmed by attending temple and later displays a lack of faith in god by bringing up aspects of theodicy. Her plight is relatable for any age, and it’s fascinating to see a film that treats tween girls like human beings with complex thoughts and feelings instead of simplistic ciphers of childhood wonder.
Blume’s book was considered highly controversial for its time, and it’s sad to say that in this current age, it might be regarded as just as prone to being banned, considering the resurgence of banned books. And, yet, that’s what makes this movie feel all the more necessary and inspiring. It’s perfectly paced with just the right tone to be an intelligent and comedic film that makes you feel good to be alive and experience all life's unique aspects. That’s the sensation I got from the movie and I can only fathom how much more profound it will be for women who find so much more of themselves within Margaret and her struggle.