Back in 2016, writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig gave us The Edge of Seventeen
, one of the best teen comedy-dramas in recent memory. Now she gets her name connected to the best preadolescent comedy drama in recent memory by adapting Judy Blume's seminal 1970 Young Adult novel, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
. Supposedly Blume had resisted Hollywood adapting the story for over 40 years, but she was smart to entrust it in the hands of Craig and super-producer James L. Brooks.
Just as the novel, the movie is a frank, funny and frequently moving look at a preteen girl's experiences with puberty and religion. Also like the novel, the movie pulls no punches in its subject matter. In a day and age where the subject of what children should be exposed to is frequently discussed on cable news on a daily basis, here is a movie that proves to be an eye-opening experience on how these sensitive subjects should be treated. The film never once talks down to its audience, and is refreshingly honest. This never once feels like a Hollywood production, and feels more like a memory of an actual youth. An equally smart decision was to not update the story, and instead make it a period piece of when the book was originally written. It's setting and soundtrack choices seem organic, and never gimmicky, and gives the film a lived-in quality rather than that of a studio set.
Naturally, a film like this rises or falls based on who plays the titular Margaret, and the filmmakers have struck gold in casting relative newcomer Abby Ryder Fortson, who up to now was known for playing Paul Rudd's daughter in the first two Ant-Man
films, but gets to make a huge impression in her first leading role. She nails every single laugh and emotion as a girl on the cusp of puberty, right around the same time her parents make the surprise announcement that her dad (Benny Safdie) got a new job, and they are leaving New York City and moving to the suburbs in New Jersey. This takes Margaret not just far from her familiar grounds and friends, but also from her beloved grandma Sylvia (a scene-stealing Kathy Bates) who is also not thrilled by the news of the move. (She likes to remind the family of a fact she read that states elderly people have shorter life expectancy when their loved ones aren't around.)
Margaret begins having regular private conversations with God, wanting some kind of guidance with the emotions she's feeling about having to move. The thing is, she doesn't know what to think about God. Her mother Barbara (a wonderful Rachel McAdams) came from a conservative Christian background, while her husband is Jewish. Her parents want their daughter to make up her own mind about God and religion, but this is hard when Margaret learns that Barbara's parents disowned her when they found out the man she wanted to marry was not Christian. She tries to understand religion by exploring different options on her own, but like for a lot of people, it's a complicated matter, and she never feels closer to God no matter what she tries.
After the move, Margaret befriends a group of girls at her new school who are obsessed with the usual topics of 12-year-old girls such as boys, gossiping about that one girl in class who is abnormally tall and supposedly has been wearing a bra since the Fourth Grade, and of competing with each other over who can have their period first. All of this is treated with the same frankness as the original novel, making the film somewhat of a small cinematic miracle. Blume herself (who serves as one of the lead producers) has gone on to state that she feels the movie is even better than her own novel, and while this may sound controversial to its legions of fans, she may have a point. The movie is joyous, hilarious, heartfelt, and beautiful in all the right ways, and simply is delightful to watch from beginning to end.
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
has been made with the utmost care, and nothing has been overlooked. It hits all the right notes in its dialogue, direction and performances, and creates the perfect tone throughout. When you sit through as many movies as I do, you start to realize just how rare that truly is. It's also rare for a film aimed at family audiences to be as upfront about the issues of religion, puberty and sexual awakening as this. Yes, the movie earns its PG-13 rating, but it is never really offensive in any way, except perhaps to those types who want to protect children from reality. Having this movie come out in the political and social climate we currently find ourselves in makes it all the more important and necessary to watch.
Here is one of the great films of the year, one that lifted my spirits. For parents with children of a certain age, it should almost be required viewing. Unfortunately, it's bound to be swallowed up by the big Summer competition that will start hitting the first weekend of May, but just like the book that inspired it, it's sure to be beloved by those who discover it for years to come.
Post a Comment