Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret


Cineworld, Edinburgh

I was an avid reader as a child, so of course I devoured Judy Blume’s novels. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret was the first one I chanced upon in our village library, its long title drawing my eye. I’d never seen a book with a name like that before, and – I soon realised as I scanned the blurb – I’d never read one that dealt with such subjects either. Periods, bras and… God?

I wasn’t especially interested in the God stuff. I don’t think that has as much resonance here in Britain as it does in Blume’s native USA; we’re a much more secular place, and there are loads of kids in every classroom who don’t know or care what religion they are. Periods, however, and breast acquisition: they were just as relevant in my Welsh primary school as in Margaret’s New Jersey one.

Blume’s novels work because she doesn’t trivialise kids’ experiences. Sure, menstruation and supportive underwear soon lose their allure and become mundane once you’ve got them, but when you’re young and they’re ahead of you, their mystery looms large.

Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig’s adaptation is faithful to its source material, and bound to be a smash with the novel’s ninety-million readers. It’s a simple tale: the eponymous Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) is eleven years old and living her best life. She’s just enjoyed a fun time at summer camp, and is excited to be returning home to her family in New York – her mom, Barbara (Rachel McAdams), her dad, Herb (Benny Safdie), and her Grandma, Sylvia (Kathy Bates). As far as Margaret and Sylvia are concerned, things are fine exactly the way they are – but Barbara and Herb have other ideas. They want to move out of their cramped apartment to a house in the suburbs, where Herb has found a better job, and Barbara can try out being a stay-at-home-mom.

At first, life in New Jersey seems okay. Precocious pre-teen Nancy (whose verve and sparkle is marvellously captured by Elle Graham) makes a beeline for Margaret, and invites her to join her friendship group. Unlike Margaret’s old friends, these girls are obsessed with growing up, and she is soon initiated into a world of body-consciousness and crushes, not to mention fashion rules. “No socks!” says Nancy, “And you have to wear a bra!”

Margaret follows obediently, although she’s not entirely on board. She’s still trying to figure out who she is. Herb is Jewish and Barbara is Christian, and they’ve never taken Margaret to any kind of church, telling her she can choose her own path when she’s old enough. So when her new teacher suggests she might research different religions for her sixth-grade project, Margaret is intrigued. Maybe this way she’ll find some of the answers she needs. And so she embarks on her quest, visiting the synagogue with Sylvia, a Presbyterian church with her pal, Janie (Amari Alexis Price), a Methodist church with Nancy and a Catholic confessional with her classmate, Laura (Isol Young). But God proves elusive, and Margaret eventually realises there are some problems she needs to sort out on her own…

This is a delightful movie, the characterisations bold but convincing, avoiding easy caricature. Fortson is perfectly cast as Margaret, imbuing her with just the right amount of self-consciousness and uncertainty. Bates shines as the slightly overbearing Sylvia, entirely redeemed by her devotion to her granddaughter, while McAdams exudes kindness and sensitivity. It’s a slight tale, but it’s beautifully told, and I’m taken right back to my own childhood. As a piece of nostalgia, it absolutely works, but I’m sure its appeal is wider than that. Today’s adolescents are bound to love it too.

4. 4 stars

Susan Singfield


One comment

  1. Truly loved this one. As we so well know, not all book adaptations go this well and I think it is probably because due a lot to Abby Fortson Ryder’s performance & a really good female director. I think no matter where you are in the world, me in the US, you in Wales, we can relate to most of it all. And honestly, I don’t think I’d want to do it all again. ha! Great review!


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