Quick Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Margaret moves to a new town and struggles to find her personal identity while growing up.
When I talk about Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret (or AYTG? IMM, pronounced Ayetagimamm) I feel it’s important to note two things: One, I’m an adult male. Two, I’m British. As such, I have zero personal history with the original Judy Blume book. I have no emotional connection to it, I haven’t built up an image of these characters in my head for me to be annoyed by when the film versions of them don’t match up to them. I know it’s a HUGE deal in America, but I have no preconceptions of it, and it’s clear the film is going to make ZERO concessions to appeal to someone outside of the target audience, so what’s in it for me?
Charm. That’s it. That’s what makes AYTG?IMM work. It makes you feel nostalgic for a time period which you never belonged to. This nostalgia helps fuel the innocence needed. There are moments here which could go sooooo badly. A group of pre-pubescent girls talking about how they want to increase their breast size? That could go very creepy and unsettling if done incorrectly. Kelly Fremon Craig approached it perfectly. I’ll just quickly mention Fremon Craig, she is why I watched this film. I would have normally avoided this out of fear that it’s so not me that I wouldn’t be able to approach it like I should and I would confuse “this film is not for me” with “this film is not good”. When I saw she was behind it, I decided I had to watch it, she wrote and directed The Edge Of Seventeen, which I absolutely love.
As I said, I don’t know that much about the original book, so I don’t know what was Craig and what was Blume. I think that’s a good sign though, it shows a good blend of writer and source material. The book was in 1970, and the film is set in that time, but is made with the benefit of hindsight into that decade, which sometimes means that the past is made to seem different than it actually was. But this all feels very real. The themes are still relevant today. Not just the worries about growing up, but also the shaming of young girls who develop before others. The fact that this film/book is mature enough to recognise that happens and that these girls are often slut-shamed before they’ve even done anything sexual is a depressingly relevant message for these times. On the one hand, it’s impressive that it recognises it’s a problem, but on the other, it’s bleak that a generation of people grew up on this book and didn’t seem to learn one of the main messages.
This is a very simple story; “girl grows up”. The ending is her having her first period. So really, it’s about nothing. Nobody dies, there are no huge stakes. But that’s approaching it from an adult point of view. From the POV of a child; the worries about growing up, getting your first kiss, your friendship groups etc, they ARE the most important things in your life. It’s really difficult for a film to show this and not have adults watching think “oh grow up you stupid child”. The characters need to express these worries without seeming melodramatic so that the audience knows how important it is. More importantly; adults REMEMBER how important that was growing up, they get flashbacks to those awkward times growing up. I don’t know how, but this managed it perfectly, and I think a lot of that is down to the writing.
Although that’s not just the talent of Blume or Craig, it’s also due to the cast. Abby Ryder Forston is absolutely perfect, I haven’t been this surprised with a child performance since McKenna Grace in Gifted. The supporting cast is great too, but there are issues with some actors not really given enough to do.
There is one burning question I have to ask; why did it take so long for this to get made? A lot of religious folks hate the honest and necessary discussion of menstruation, as well as the shock of a young child not being forced into deciding on a religion before they’re emotionally mature enough to fully understand the ramifications. So this film would not have been made in the 80s, and if it was it would not have been anywhere near as effective. So in a way, it’s a good thing this was delayed as it meant it could be approached with the sensitivity needed.
On the downside, the music could have been better. I can’t remember any songs from it, and since nostalgia and music are so heavily intertwined it feels like a wasted opportunity. In summary, I absolutely adore this film and highly recommend it. It’s an utter delight, and I can’t even think of a snarky way to end this review.