Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret always felt a little too precious for the big screen. Judy Blume’s tale of faith and puberty and one girl’s clumsy, earnest attempts to make peace with both was a bestseller in 1970 and one of the most banned books in America for the decades that came after. It was open and candid about things that adults rarely bothered to explain to their daughters; a reassuring ally in many a childhood over the past five decades.
Blume had resisted all attempts to bring Are You There God? to the big screen. That changed after a bid from producer James L Brooks – whose legacy of wholesome Americana extends from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to The Simpsons – and director Kelly Fremon Craig. Blume was right to wait. As this tender, faithful adaptation shows, her story couldn’t have been entrusted into more steady hands.
Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson), who’s 11 years old, returns from summer camp to learn that her parents, Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and Herb (Benny Safdie), have resolved to pack up and relocate the family from New York City to the New Jersey suburb. She’s desperate to fit in, as quickly as possible, and so finds herself enmeshed in a secret club run by the performatively haughty Nancy (Elle Graham), and her minions Gretchen (Katherine Mallen Kupferer) and Janie (Amari Alexis Price).
Fremon Craig, of course, isn’t speaking to quite the same audience as Blume was. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is now no longer a story to be devoured in private communion between author and reader, but to be shared between families and friends, or strangers in a darkened auditorium. Margaret’s once-contemporary surroundings are now steeped in sweet, mellow nostalgia – of Melmac dishware, canned mushroom soup splurted on to pot roasts, and buckled mary janes – and a silent recognition of the storytellers who have carried Blume’s legacy onwards into the current era. It’s hard to watch Are You There God? and not think of Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade (2018), or even Fremon Craig’s own The Edge of Seventeen (2016).
Much has changed since Blume first published her work. And, also, very little: women are still made to feel alienated from their own bodies, children are barely treated as sentient beings, and menstruation continues to be treated as some monstrous taboo. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret remains a radical act of kindness.