It has been about 9 years since I first read Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I am not a girl, nor did I ever move from home until I was 20, but there was a charm to this book that captured the essence of early adolescence which resonated with me. A hero can only be as good as its villain, and cruel, cruel puberty makes tragic figures out of all of us, especially 11-year-old Margaret Simon, whose journey is both wondrous for children and nostalgic for adults.
When the first trailer for this film came out, I admittedly had a petty reservation over how the film chose to remain faithful to the 1970s setting. I was vehemently against this creative decision. The great appeal of Blume novels are their timelessness, and I felt there was a missed opportunity right from the inception of this film not to address the same issues the book explored in the present-day Gen Alpha landscape. Oh well, it is merely a missed possibility, and the 70s setting oozes with vibrancy befitting the nostalgic tone the film wished to achieve. Costumes, furniture, and colours blend together in wonderful mid-century fashion. The soundtrack, although composed by your generic Spotify playlist of retro hits, actually works well in this film. There was this momentous scene with Son of a Preacher Man in the background, and it was just all the cuter than how I envisioned it in the novel.
This film, however, is absolutely defined by its acting, and all the child actors did a brilliant job. It is actually so impressive to see the tail end of Gen Z come out onto the big screen with so much potential. Of course, heaps of praise must be awarded to Abby Ryder Fortson (Ant-Man’s daughter herself). I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say this film lives or dies based on the performance of its lead, and Fortson absolutely upholds the vitality of this film. There was this montage in the film where Margaret does a cringy thing that tween girls apparently do, but it is so enjoyable to watch because Fortson commits such infectious energy to the role. It is a bit of a wonder that Margaret’s actress never read a Judy Blume novel until she auditioned for this role, I suppose that is a testament to how Margaret as a character embodies the blossoming adolescent girl phase of every woman’s life (I have a cousin who is the same age as Margaret, I don’t think the two are that much different after watching this film).
It is a crime that Rachel McAdams’s name gets top billing in the credits and not Abby Ryder Fortson’s. I know some people have said online that this film is essentially a one-woman Mcadams showcase based on how good her scenes were, and I honestly cannot take that statement seriously. Yes, she does a fantastic job, especially with new scenes added to this film dedicated to exploring her character deeper than the original book. It’s just that Fortson holds herself well next to McAdams, and she is simply phenomenal throughout every emotional high and low in the script. There is this one scene between McAdams and Fortson, where Margaret and her mother have a difficult conversation about some family matters early in the film, which really summarises what I love about this story. Good acting and visceral character work combined with appropriate framing, and both actresses really give it their all, bringing gravity worthy of an Academy Award-winning drama to this summer-released family film.
I must critique that many other vignettes are either unresolved or flatly should have been moved around. This problem is more apparent in the third act, where some scenes make more logical sense if they came before others. I won’t spoil anything, but I feel that some plot points were written into the novel by Blume, and should have been fixed for the film. For example, two characters who are quite important just disappear after an argument in which they were being wronged, and they just remain missing for the last 20 minutes of screen time, as if they never deserved even to have an ending.
But these are mere blemishes, carried by its solid acting, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. is one of the finest and most faithful adaptations of a children’s book in recent memory. I still recommend you read the book, or any Judy Blume book really, for that is where the magic first arose.