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‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ Review: Rachel McAdams in a Judy Blume Adaptation That Was Worth the Wait



Judy Blume never wanted her classic adolescent novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret turned into a film. The beloved author received numerous calls from Hollywood executives over the years asking for her blessing (and the rights). “Not every book has to be a movie,” the author said recently. “I just didn’t think it would ever be done in the way that I would have felt proud of.”

She makes a fair point. Blume’s novel — a modest story of a sixth grader who, on the cusp of puberty, finds herself talking with God — endures because it offers readers solace during a famously uncertain time. Puberty happens to everyone, but amid newly sprouting pimples and peculiar body odors one can suddenly feel desperately alone. An adaptation would be too easy to botch, could too easily shatter the magic Blume so carefully conjured. So, the writer gently turned down each bid and moved on.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

The Bottom Line

A love letter to fans.

Release date: Friday, April 28
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Abby Ryder Fortson, Elle Graham, Benny Safdie, Echo Kellum, Kathy Bates
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Screenwriters: Kelly Fremon Craig, Judy Blume (based on the book by)

1 hour 45 minutes

What a gift that Kelly Fremon Craig, the director of The Edge of Seventeenstill made an effort and sent Blume a note asking to adapt Margaret. And how lucky for us — fans of Margaret, Blume and good books in general — that Blume said yes. Now, more than 50 years later, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has a charming, heartwarming and more than worthy screen adaptation.

The film is a success for many reasons. The cast — Abby Ryder Fortson plays Margaret, Rachel McAdams her mother, Benny Safdie her father and Kathy Bates Margaret’s paternal grandmother — helps. So does Hans Zimmer’s sonorous score, which is layered with whimsical beats that transport us to the novel’s original setting in the 1970s. But the magic of Craig’s adaptation comes from its respectful resuscitation of the source material. It stays close to Margaret and her emotions, using them to honor an already sturdy narrative while also expanding our understanding of the world around her. There are peeks into the perspectives of other people, mostly the adults, that remind us that growing up never gets any easier.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret opens at the end of summer, with Margaret (Forston) returning to New York to find her apartment almost completely packed into boxes. She’s moving to New Jersey, her grandmother (a stellar Bates) tearfully announces before Margaret can orient herself. To stop her life from changing, Margaret finds herself praying to God. Her parents observe different religions — Barbara (McAdams) grew up Christian and Herb (Safdie) is Jewish — so they raised Margaret agnostic until she could decide for herself.

Her prayer has the stiltedness of all first times. “Are you there God?” she timidly says (we hear this through voiceover). “It’s me, Margaret.” She asks him to stop the move. It doesn’t work. (One can only imagine how many calls God gets.) Nevertheless, the desperate action turns into comforting ritual. As Margaret makes her way through a new neighborhood, new friends and the peculiarity of puberty, she keeps God in the loop. Later, spurred by a school project from her teacher (Echo Kellum), she tries to find him through different religions.

In The Edge of Seventeen, Craig proved her ability to build a story on a familiar sentimentality: Her endearing comedy is modeled after John Hughes films, which, more than anything, took the problems of its characters seriously. Samantha Baker’s anger with feeling invisible on the cusp of 16 or the social and family pressures the kids in The Breakfast Club face felt like a big deal because they were a big deal. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret does similar work. Craig, with cinematographer Tim Ives (Stranger Things), enlarges Margaret’s world and translates her heightened emotions by mixing lower-angle shots and close-ups. Memorable scenes include the iconic club meetings, in which Margaret and her friends Nancy (Elle Graham), Janie (Amari Price) and Gretchen (Katherine Kupferer) stand in a circle and chant: “We must, we must, we must increase our busts. ” in hopes of growing breasts.

The anguish of moving to a new town, the thrill of friendship and the heartbreak of realizing the different ways the world will inevitably disappoint you are rendered with warmth and welcome feeling in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Craig doesn’t confine these milestones to Margaret either. She spends some time with Margaret’s family, especially her mom Barbara and her grandmother, who are, in their own ways, challenged by the move to New Jersey. McAdams is excellent, investing her part with an earthy familiarity, and she pairs well with Bates, whose role as a lonely grandmother missing her granddaughter offers both comedic relief and touching moments.

Fortson gives us a Margaret worth rooting for. The actress assuredly handles the shifts between the protagonist’s joys, disappointments and loneliness. In her hands, Margaret becomes at once her own person — fully fleshed-out, detailed and lively — and the character that so many people sought out for comfort and validation. Her performance, just like the world Craig and her team have built, is one to get lost in.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret works because it’s a love letter from one Blume fan to many others. It is a responsible and uncomplicated adaptation, one that capitalizes on the story’s lore and legacy. But it’s not withholding, either. The film crucially invites a new generation to join Margaret in the weird, challenging and sometimes wonderful experience of getting older.

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