Runtime: 106 Minutes
Director/Writer: Kelly Fremon Craig
Stars: Abby Ryder Fortson, Rachel McAdams, Benny Safdie, Kathy Bates, Elle Graham, Echo Kellum, Isol Young, Amari Alexis Price, Katherine Kupferer
By Morgan Roberts
Despite many attempts to remove the Judy Blume classic, “Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret.” from bookshelves, the preteen novel has survived since the early 1970s. It has been a book young girls and boys have turned to feel seen. Cementing its legacy and forging its own, the film adaption written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig not only pays homage to its source material but brings to life the personification of a warm hug for your younger self.
The film follows Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) as she returns from summer camp to learn that her parents Herb (Benny Safdie) and Barbara (Rachel McAdams) are moving her from New York City to the suburbs in New Jersey. On her new street at her new house, she soon befriends a girl from the neighborhood Nancy Wheeler (Elle Graham). Margaret quickly finds herself inducted into Nancy’s friend group which also includes Janie (Amari Alexis Price) and Gretchen (Katherine Kupferer). The girls experience the daunting and optimistic confluence of childhood merging into young adulthood. A time where your body is changing and the boys seem cuter than before. Meanwhile, Margaret begins to question her faith and her existence in the world. She speaks to God, but where can she find Him? At temple with her grandmother, Sylvia (Kathy Bates)? At church with her friend? Is He really anywhere at all?
“Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.” is a formative book for many. It is usually the first time young people see their own insecurities and fears and hopes and desires reflected at them. So, taking this beloved book and turning it into a screen adaption was no easy task. Yet, Craig not only rose to the challenge, but far exceeded the half-a-century high expectations. So much of the book is through the first person lens of Margaret. However, with film, we can expand upon what the book originally crafted. We can start to get peaks at the lives of characters such as Sylvia and more importantly, Barbara.
Craig was able to turn this beloved book into something outside of Margaret by delving into Barbara’s story arc. You see a woman who is adjusting to her new role as a stay at home parent. A woman whose purpose shifted and an increased desire to connect to her daughter. Her daughter who was once a little girl who is now not so little anymore. It is interesting to see the mirroring between Margaret and Barbara. Both are only children, both are at a precipice in their lives. You have to wonder, was that always there in the book? Has it taken time and distance from childhood to fully understand Barbara? It certainly does not hurt that you have someone like McAdams in the role of Barbara. She portrays the character with such layers while making subtle but powerful choices. McAdams is truly one of the best of her craft, and the work she does here is simply extraordinary. In a perfect world, she would be receiving awards buzz and accolades over the next 11 months.
But at the center of this film is a superb performance by Fortson. Regardless of where you are in life, your 11 year old self will find a way to connect with Fortson’s Margaret. There is an earnestness and naturalness that comes with her performance. One can only imagine how daunting a task it is to slip into the role of Margaret, a literary character that has been a companion to preteens for over 50 years. And yet, Fortson completely makes this character her own. Fortson shows us the well of Margaret’s hopes and insecurities and aspirations through great compassion and care. It is a performance you wish you saw at that age. And with that performance, along with Craig’s script, that grown-up guard is easily put down to truly transport yourself to what it was like being 11 years old. What is was like to feel behind everyone or question everything or struggle to understand your place in the world. The universality of the struggle and the joy and the perplexity and the hilarity of growing up stands the test of time. It is embodied in this film.
“Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.” is one of the best films of the year. Masterfully acted, impeccably written, and beautifully directed, this film will be remembered as one of the best book to film adaptations. It shows immense respect to the source material, while using the space afforded in cinema to expand our horizons.