“Maturity is a high price to pay for growing up.” - Tom Stoppard
About fifteen minutes into the movie I started wondering why I was there. That isn’t to say the movie is bad, in fact it’s quite good. I was wondering why I was there, me specifically. The director’s previous film, The Edge of Seventeen, was a John Hughes inspired classic in the making. It was destined to be mentioned among the greatest coming-of-age films ever made. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Stand By Me, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Edge of Seventeen. I truly feel it’s as well made and significant as those others I just listed. Something was more obvious with The Edge of Seventeen than it was with Kelly Fremon Craig’s latest, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. and that is the relatability factor that reached in everyone’s direction. With Are You There God? it’s much more apparent the focus is on the adolescent female experience. So why was I there?
As with any good story, it just needs time to unfold. This is the case with Judy Blume’s iconic novel now beautifully adapted into a feature length film. While the perspective never changes, her experiences begin to broaden as life comes at her as it does for everyone. It certainly covers things unique to a young girl’s upbringing like debating the need for a bra and knowing how to properly use a sanitary napkin. But she also encounters religion. Daughter to a raised Christian mother and a raised Jewish father, the character of Margaret is confronted with what place religion has in her life if any. I can’t tell you how much I relate to this dilemma. In this particular household religion is a sort of dirty word that everyone avoids due to past trauma. It has separated the family seemingly irreparably. Needless to say, Margaret has a lot on her plate. And that’s just the start of it.
What I appreciate most about the gradual broadening of relatable themes is the way in which it occurs. It feels so authentically organic and comes about as you might expect it would in real life. From the beginning Margaret understands that religion is something not really present in her family’s everyday life but it does still loom large like the quintessential elephant in the room. What she doesn’t understand is why.
I think one of the harshest lessons we learn in life is that our parents are usually not who we once believed them to be. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it can be. We learn of their life experiences that molded them into the flawed human beings we as their children have yet to fully be introduced to. We usually only see a sliver of who they really are oftentimes due to some kind of trauma they would much rather leave in the past. I can’t even begin to tell you the things I’ve learned about my own father since he died. Sometimes it feels like I didn’t really know him at all, he was merely a shell with so much of himself buried. I learned many of these things at thirty years old believe it or not. Margaret is learning them at the unripe age of eleven.
At her budding age she begins to discover what young love is or rather what it could be. She learns about the burdens of peer pressure and what it means to find those you can truly call a friend. She begins to see the measure of which her own parents, particularly her mother, will go to make her absolutely certain of one thing; they are in her corner, unconditionally.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. is a story about eleven year old Margaret learning about who she is in a world she doesn’t fully comprehend in a body she doesn’t understand. She is at an age where life, without warning, begins to get dramatically more difficult seemingly for no reason other than she’s getting older. Her parents are beginning to lose their glow as the perfect examples she once thought them to be and are becoming quite simply, people. It’s a tough thing to see your parents as heroes one day and then just humans the next. Ah, to be eleven again.
The titular character is played by Abby Ryder Fortson, best known for her role as Cassie in the MCU. That was a small role so her turn as Margaret is her first true chance at showing her capabilities as an actor and someone who can carry a movie as its lead. And she does so with complete conviction and with the confidence of someone twice her age. She is brilliant and vulnerable as Margaret. She is genuine in every moment, from the serious and life altering to the smaller, sometimes funnier moments that prove her worth as an actor time and time again. She stands seamlessly with the likes of Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates who are both fantastic in their roles as mother and grandmother. Abby embodies the characteristics of Margaret from head to toe.
While it may not exactly be made for a thirty-four year old white dude like myself it still manages to be for everyone regardless of its main point of view, that of an eleven year old girl in 1970’s New Jersey. Its greatest strength is never relegating the specific experience of an adolescent girl to something as less important to focus on the general life experiences of someone who is simply eleven, boy or girl. It gives a spotlight to both sides creating a larger picture that is just wonderful to see and relate to and cherish.
Rated PG-13 For: thematic material involving sexual education and some suggestive material
Runtime: 105 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Starring: Abby Ryder Fortson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Benny Safdie
Directed By: Kelly Fremon Craig
Out of 10
Story: 9/ Acting: 10/ Directing: 9/ Visuals: 8
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below: