‘Are You There, God?’ movie captures all the sweetness of Judy Blume’s enduring novel

A 11-year-old girl’s coming of age is handled with grace and tenderness in near-perfect adaptation.

SHARE ‘Are You There, God?’ movie captures all the sweetness of Judy Blume’s enduring novel
aytg_unit_17869rc4.jpg

In “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.,” the 11-year-old heroine (Abby Ryder Fortson) adores her grandmother (Kathy Bates).

Lionsgate

Seems curious it took a half-century for an adaptation of Judy Blume’s landmark Young Adult novel “Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret.” to come our way, given its generationally popular impact and a sweet, authentic and relatable storyline that seems tailor-made for at least a TV movie, a la Blume’s teenage love story “Forever,” which was published in 1975 and turned into a small-screen film starring Stephanie Zimbalist just three years later.

A few other works by the now 85-year-old American treasure that is Judy Blume have been adapted through the years, but alas, none of these efforts were particularly memorable. The great news is, we’re in the midst of a Judy Blume renaissance, with the documentary “Judy Blume Forever” now streaming on Prime Video, a cinematic version of “Fudge” to be produced by the Russos of “Avengers” fame, a reworking of “Forever” from Mara Brock Akil of “Girlfriends” and a limited series based on “Summer Sisters” in development.

And while it took all these decades for “Are You There, God?” to finally gets its day in theaters, it was worth the wait, as writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig (“The Edge of Seventeen”) has delivered a near-perfect adaptation of Blume’s novel that wisely retains its 1970 setting yet no doubt will be as relevant as ever to audiences of all ages.

‘Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.’

Untitled

Lionsgate presents a film written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, based on the novel by Judy Blume. Rated PG-13 (for thematic material involving sexual education and some suggestive material). Running time: 105 minutes. Opens Thursday at local theaters.

It doesn’t hurt that we’re treated to one of the most likable casts of the year, from Kathy Bates in the kind of brassy, screen-grabbing performance that attracts best supporting actress attention to Rachel McAdams as the mom everyone wishes they had, to a group of young actors who actually look and sound like 11- and 12-year-olds.

They’re bursting with energy and eager to connect with everything the world has to offer—except for those moments when they run up to their room and slam the door and just want to be left alone, forever.

They’re frustrated about not growing up fast enough — even as their parents worry they’re growing up too fast. And in Margaret’s case, every setback, triumph and ball of confusion that comes her way leads to her praying to a God she’s not even certain exists. It’s all handled with grace and tenderness and humor and intelligence by Fremon Craig and the wonderful cast.

Abby Ryder Fortson delivers an absolutely winning and empathetic performance as 11-year-old Margaret, whose father Herb (Benny Safdie, funny in a limited role) is Jewish and mother Barb (Rachel McAdams, spectacularly good) is Christian, though neither parent is particularly religious and they’ve told Margaret she can choose her own path when she’s old enough.

Margaret’s life is turned upside down when the family moves from New York City to suburban New Jersey, leaving behind her beloved grandmother Sylvia (Kathy Bates) — but the movers’ boxes aren’t even unpacked before Margaret is plunged into her new life, as she becomes fast friends with the seemingly sophisticated and more mature Nancy (Elle Graham).

Soon, Margaret has been welcomed into Nancy’s “secret club,” which has now become a quartet of sixth-grade girls who moon over the mini-Elvis-looking hunk in their class, fret about when they’ll develop busts and get their periods, and sometimes engage in petty gossip about certain classmates, including a heavyset nerd and a girl who’s a head taller than everyone else and has been wearing a bra since the fourth grade.

“Are You There, God?” is set in a 1970 where soft rock plays on the radio, kids run through sprinklers and attend birthday parties in “finished” basements, the dining room table has an extension for special occasions, and copper hens adorn kitchen walls. When the landline rings, you have no idea who’s calling.

There’s no mention of the turbulent times because this is a story told through the experiences of an 11-year-old girl — though we do get a storyline that’s not in the book, focusing on Barb’s relationship with her estranged parents. (Even then, Margaret finds herself at the center of a heated debate about religion between her grandma Sylvia and the grandparents she’s just now meeting for the first time.)

There are moments of coming-of-age humor, as when Margaret and her friend Janie (a delightful Amari Price) buy sanitary pads at a drugstore and a teenage boy takes FOREVER to ring up the sale, or when the girls regard a drawing of male genitalia in an anatomy book and recoil as if they’ve seen an alien.

Themes of faith and spirituality are explored throughout in an honest and respectful manner, as Margaret struggles with her concept of God yet turns to prayer to help her sort out her life in all its wonderful uncertainty.

One of the most endearing and enduring YA novels of all time has been turned into one of the best movies of the year.

The Latest
John Mieszala’s 30-inch-plus walleye and Eugene Smiths 27-inch walleye, both from Pistakee Lake, share Fish of the Week honors.
New guidance and a ruling includes plans to stop “partnership basis shifting” — a process by which a business or person can enter into a series of transactions to avoid taxes.
From parties, street festivals, family fun and much more, here’s what’s on Chicago’s Pride 2024 calendar.
Five people, including a 15-year-old girl, were wounded in Humboldt Park around 12:45 a.m. Monday. More than 20 people were shot in Chicago in little more than four hours early Monday.
The man was shot in the 7700 block of South South Chicago Avenue, police said.