Margaret's family embrace each other in a three-way hug.

Film Review: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

Film Reviews

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

Gracie Films
In Theaters: 04.28

Self discovery and the nature of God are weighty topics for any comedy, and Judy Blume’s classic novel Are You There, God? it’s Me, Margaret is one of the most beloved American works to ever tackle to these subjects. Can a big-screen adaptation do the material justice?

Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson, Ant-Man), an 11-year-old girl living in New York City returns home from summer camp to learn that her parents, Barbara and Herb Simon (Rachel McAdams and Benny Safdie, respectively), have decided to move the family to the New Jersey suburbs. The move will separate Margaret from her grandmother, Sylvia (Kathy Bates), who is none too happy at the news. Margaret will also have to adjust to a new school and make a new circle of friends all while entering the frightening realm of puberty. 

While Margaret has grown up without a religion—her Christian-raised mother and Jewish-raised father chose not to raise her as either—she frequently turns to God in informal prayer, asking for help, sharing her secrets and looking for a constant and guiding presence in her life. Unless she learns to believe in herself, Margaret needs more guidance than ever this year.

Writer/director Kelly Fremont Craig (The Edge of Seventeen) doesn’t just do the book justice—she turns it into a cinematic masterpiece. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is easily the best film to come out of Hollywood this year. The choice to keep the story in 1970 (when the book was first published) could have made the material feel quite dated. Instead, it gives it relevance that transcends any time period, reminding adults that they were once kids going through the pangs of adolescence, and reassuring  teens that their parents have been there before. While the soundtrack makes good use of classic ’70s songs to help set the tone, the score shows that composer Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Dune, Interstellar) is actually capable of soft, subtle elegance in place of booming bombastic bass when given the right vehicle.  

Abby Ryder Fortson’s performance isn’t just great by the standards of child actors—it’s a fearless tour de force that establishes her as a top tier talent. That she was written out of the Ant-Man franchise is a blessing that allows her to focus on bigger and better things. Elle Graham (Secrets of Sulphur Springs), who plays Margaret’s popular and manipulative friend, Nancy Wheeler, is a major discovery and deserves kudos for never reducing the complex character to a cartoonish villain. The maturity and bravery of the young actors in playing scenarios such as practicing making out with a bedpost or getting their first period is far from child’s play, and the low key, in-the-moment honesty is so disarmingly strong that it’s enough to establish Fremon Craig as second to none when it comes to directing young actors. 

McAdams and Bates give their most memorable performances in years and add a great deal, though the film belongs to Ryder Fortson and her contemporaries. It’s to the credit of these celebrated, grown-up stars that they are willing to graciously fade into the background and let the kids light up the screen. 

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret should be on the must-see list of everyone who enjoys great storytelling and relatable, three-dimensional characters. It should also be looked at a serious Oscar contender in multiple categories. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret sets a high bar for wards season, and potential competitors might want to start praying now. –Patrick Gibbs 

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