Are you there God? Nope, just Kelly Fremon Craig.
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” is Craig’s second feature film attempt, her second coming-of-age story and her second film to score above 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Her heartwarming adaptation of Judy Blume’s iconic and controversial 1970 novel of the same name revitalizes a classic story for a new generation to enjoy.
For those unfamiliar with the story of “Are You There God?,” it’s a feel-good dramedy about 11-year-old Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson). Margaret and her parents Herb (Benny Safdie) and Barbara (Rachel McAdams) move from New York to New Jersey, leaving Margaret’s grandmother Sylvia (Kathy Bates) behind. Margaret has to adapt to the dramatic change in her living situation as well as the changes that are happening to her body – or lack thereof.
As she struggles with body image and self-acceptance while also trying to fit in at school, she discovers a deeper controversy between her parents and their parents. Herb and his mother Sylvia are Jewish, but Barbara and her parents are Christian. She’s confused about how her body should look and where her faith should lie, so she consults God throughout the film not as a religious outreach, but more as a personal therapy tool.
“Are You There God?” turns the awkward, uncomfortableness of puberty and makes it wholesome and sweet. It’s uncomfortable when it needs to be, like when Margaret has to ask her mom for a bra and purchase feminine products from a male cashier.
Inversely, the movie makes you sympathize with Margaret on a personal level which eliminates viewer discomfort. Besides sexuality, the other major theme of “Are You There God?” is the often demanding nature of religion. Margaret is caught between two different religions and two different sides of the family trying to pull her in their direction. It’s heartbreaking to see adults acting like children, especially around an actual child.
The movie takes a complete turn during a family dinner gone wrong where all of Margaret’s grandparents are trying to convert her to their religion. Both the movie and movie theater are swept in suffocating silence to see what happens next. Consequently, there’s a lighthearted gospel church dance scene reminiscent of “The Blues Brothers” that balances the heavier tones.
Being a historical piece set in the 70s, the soundtrack is totally killer. Although the epic tracklist isn’t currently available anywhere, there are great onscreen moments that stick in your memory. There’s a joke that may go unnoticed when Sylvia calls the Simon household, answering “Guess who?” as The Guess Who plays in the background, but it’s hilarious. There’s also a scene where Herb dances alone to Stevie Wonder, cradling records in his arms, which might be the most wholesome and adorable moment in cinema history.
Speaking of Safdie, he once again proves that he can act just as well, if not better than he can direct. Fortson in the lead could not have been cast better. McAdams and Bates are the ideal mother and grandmother for anyone, partially due to Blume’s writing, but mostly due to just how warm and genuine their performances are. Blume makes a cameo in this movie as “Neighbor Walking Dog #1,” and is accurately credited as the original writer.
This is a coming-of-age film that will be remembered as a cultural staple along with the likes of “Lady Bird,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “The Breakfast Club.” It isn’t comparable to those, but it will have a significant impact that will be remembered for a very long time. It’s very well-paced, showing only the important moments of the story, and it can technically classify as a Christmas movie, just like “Lady Bird,” so you’ll have reason to watch it year after year.