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Review: Judy Blume's classic coming-of-age tale translates well to the big screen

Posted Tuesday, July 11, 2023 at 4:29 PM Central

by John Couture

As a 40-something-year-old man, I might be the last person you would imagine waxing intellectually about a book written before I was born dealing with the trappings of being a 12-year-old girl on the cusp of womanhood, but here we are. You might be surprised (or not) to learn that Judy Blume was instrumental in my own development years, although I tended to prefer her other seminal works like Superfudge and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.

I remember reading Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret when I was around the same age as the protagonist. And sure, while many of the obstacles that were put in Margaret's way (such as her first period) wasn't something I could immediately identify with, Blume's accessible writing and endearing characters were something everyone could relate to.

I'm happy to report that these traits carried over to the new movie adaptation brilliantly.

For over fifty years, Judy Blume's classic and groundbreaking novel Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. has impacted generations with its timeless coming-of-age story, insightful humor, and candid exploration of life's biggest questions. In Lionsgate's big-screen adaptation, 11-year-old Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) is uprooted from her life in New York City for the suburbs of New Jersey, going through the messy and tumultuous throes of puberty with new friends in a new school. She relies on her mother, Barbara (Rachel McAdams), who is also struggling to adjust to life outside the big city, and her adoring grandmother, Sylvia (Kathy Bates), who isn't happy they moved away and likes to remind them every chance she gets.

What I do have is an eleven-year-old daughter who is the perfect demographic for this story and it was a joy to experience this film through her eyes. Of course, she's more into the horror aesthetic, so most of her questions about puberty were answered during the first fifteen minutes of Carrie. Yeah, you could say that I'm a Bad Dad.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is a heartfelt adaptation of the classic novel by Judy Blume that captures the essence of adolescence and the universal quest for identity and self-acceptance. The film successfully transports viewers back to a nostalgic era while addressing timeless themes that resonate with audiences of all ages.

This was the aspect of the film that I enjoyed the most. Instead of updating the classic book and setting the movie in the present, they stuck with the original 1970s time period which presented a delicate balance between nostalgia and hokeyness. Thankfully, the film threads the needle perfectly and the result is a film that truly feels as though it came from a more wholesome time. And yet, the message is as clear today as it was back when the book was first published.

One of the film's notable strengths lies in its ability to address sensitive topics with sensitivity and respect. It tactfully explores the challenges faced by young girls, such as body image, first periods, and the pressure to conform to societal expectations. By tackling these subjects head-on, the movie provides a platform for open discussions and promotes understanding among its viewers.

Again, this is where the decision to set the film in the past comes into play. Instead of being preoccupied with the necessary updates to the story that would derail the film's message (can you imagine Margaret texting her conversations with God?), the strength of Blume's original words are able to give the delicate topics the weight they deserve.

If you have a pre-teen daughter and find it difficult to address these necessary topics, then Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is a gateway to kick off said discussion. While it's entertaining and silly at times, the film's themes stay true to the original work providing a faithful adaptation that all Judy Blume fans will enjoy.

The film remains faithful to the novel's empowering message about self-discovery and the importance of individual beliefs. It reminds audiences of the significance of embracing one's true self, even in the face of uncertainty and societal pressures. The film's final act delivers a poignant resolution that will leave viewers with a renewed sense of hope and self-acceptance.

In today's abrasive society, it's refreshing to see such weighty issues as religion being addressed without the levels of toxicity that today's offerings usually resort to. While a modern update might choose to tackle a more pressing issue, such as sexual identity, the focus on religion again allows the original ideas to shine through instead of being clouded by the murkiness of more modern issues.

Trust me, as a parent it's not easy to discuss these matters with your children who, thanks to the Internet, are already more educated than you are. So, it's always refreshing to watch something that allows you and your children an opportunity to get the ball rolling, so to speak.

With strong performances, meticulous attention to detail, and heartfelt exploration of universal themes, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret serves as a timely reminder of the power of self-discovery and the enduring journey of adolescence. Whether you're a fan of the original book or discovering Margaret's story for the first time, this film is a must-watch for anyone who appreciates an authentic and relatable coming-of-age tale.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.