Shouting was not the most eyebrow-raising thing you could do in the library when I was in elementary school in the 1980s. It was checking out Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.
A faithful take on a faith-filled tale
The world has spun around enough times since that a book over 50 years old has finally become the intergenerational family film I hope you see this weekend.
Behind the scenes is an impressive combination of Oscar-winning legends like producer James L. Brooks (As Good As It Gets, Jerry Maguire), composer Hans Zimmer (Pirates of the Caribbean, Top Gun: Maverick), and my favorite costume designer, Ann Roth (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Cold Mountain).
They join seamlessly with beloved actresses Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, Mean Girls) and Kathy Bates (Titanic, Fried Green Tomatoes), fresh-faced Abby Ryder Fortson (the Ant-Man movies), Elle Graham, Katherine Mallen Kupferer and Amari Alexis Price, to realize the competent and heartfelt directorial vision of Kelly Fremon Craig.
It is hard to make a movie, and even harder to make a good one. It’s gratifying to share that this team has made a great one.
A precious girl confides in God
The story surrounds Margaret Simon (Fortson), an eleven-year-old girl who moves with her mixed-faith parents (McAdams, Benny Safdie) from New York to New Jersey before the start of the school year.
Her Jewish father and grandmother (Bates) are a regular part of Margaret’s life, but her Christian grandparents (Mia Dillon, Gary Houston) broke contact with her mom when she chose to marry outside her faith.
Margaret’s parents raised her without religion, assuring her that she can explore the path of her choice once she’s older. Their intention to not force religion upon her is meant to be a loving one, but leaves Margaret seeking more, at one point, poignantly, in a Catholic confessional.
She meets and sometimes attends church with new friends like Nancy Wheeler (Graham), who pushes Margaret to grow up as quickly as possible, adorably frank Gretchen Potter (Kupferer), and darling Janie Loomis (Price).
All of them are curious about boys and the pending changes sure to affect their bodies, but what sets Margaret apart is an earnest search for a connection to God.
While she is alone, she prays, beginning, most sincerely and famously, with “Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret.”
Timeless, of its time, and still timely
Set in a picturesque 1970, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. conveys this classic coming-of-age story in a way that is both timeless and of its time.
Faithful to the book with a few new plot twists that serve the story well, audiences are welcomed back to an era when secret club meetings started with an ice-cold Fresca or Tab, tables were set with Corningware, phones had rotary dials, and most moms did not work.
Since, for male viewers, every female you have ever loved, from your grandmother, mother, godmother, aunt, sister, wife, or daughter, at one time in her life faced a wallop of firsts: her first crush, first kiss, first training bra, and yes, her first menstrual cycle, there is plenty of room for men to enjoy the film, as well as the female target audience.
If you never had the pleasure of raising a daughter, this film opens your heart to what it is like.
When you are no longer a little kid, but not quite a teenager, life can feel like you have a foot in two boats.
This film handles the characters and their imperfections tenderly. It entertains with an honest look into the lives of “tweens” that allows audiences to laugh and cry openly while remembering (or discovering) what it is to be faced with real, adolescent challenges.
A closing prayer
“God? It’s me, Anne. Thank you for your obvious part in the miracle this mainstream movie so lovingly pulls off: a thoughtful depiction of a child’s prayerful search for God and belonging, with authentic humor that neither makes fun nor loses sight of the beautiful and fragile reality of what it is to be eleven. Amen."
Image: Kathy Bates as Sylvia Simon and Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret Simon in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. / Photo Credit: Dana Hawley / Lionsgate
Anne Yancey is an Assistant to Feature Producers at Family Theater Productions, with 17 years’ experience as a professional theatre educator.