I’ve never read Judy Blume’s beloved 1970 novel, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”
Which means that I’m obviously not going to be able to tell you if the new movie that arrives in theaters this week is a faithful adaptation or not. That being said, the cinematic version of “Margaret” is steeped with a pronounced sense of reverence that leads me to believe that the filmmakers are genuine Judy Blume fans.
Fans or not, “Margaret” is a delightful movie that scores points because of a handful of superb performances, solid 1970s production design and a story that treats the anxieties of adolescence as something worthy of genuine concern. These may seem like trivial matters for grown-up audiences, but Blume has always been known as a writer who dealt candidly with these issues.
Abby Ryder Fortson stars as Margaret, a sixth-grader whose family is moving from New York to the New Jersey suburbs. This is predictably traumatic for our young hero, but things take a turn for the better when she is able to make several new friends (Elle Graham, Katherine Kupferer and Amari Alexis Price). Most importantly, she makes her new friends at the momentous moment in her life when they are all dealing with their changing bodies and the onset of puberty.
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If this isn’t difficult enough, Margaret is assigned a school research project about religion as she comes from a mixed-faith family. This was a nice surprise for me. I appreciated Margaret’s clumsy but sincere attempts to talk to God about the hopes and fears that plague your typical 11-year-old girl.
Fortson is very good in the title role, giving us an everygirl quality that should resonate with all audiences, young or old, female or male. I also enjoyed Rachel McAdams (as mother) and Kathy Bates (grandmother) for giving us some satisfying scenes of familial joy and humor. I’m guessing that these parts have been updated from what was in the book, but I enjoyed the performances because they help anchor the story and provide some nice moments of genuine emotion.
This might seem like a small thing, but I also appreciated the wonderful period design — I am a child of the ‘70s, and this film absolutely nails the era. That’s also true of Hans Zimmer’s musical score, which frequently left me grinning nostalgically for my younger years.
I’ll stop short of claiming that “Margaret” is a great film. I think that Kathy Bates does chew the scenery a bit, and there are moments where the story tries too hard to find a perfect ending instead of sticking with something messy but believable.
That being said, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is a delightful movie that should appeal primarily to mothers and daughters, and perhaps some fathers as well. I’m still not going to go out and read the source material, but this film certainly made me appreciate why so many people absolutely love Judy Blume.
Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press. Sean welcomes your comments via email at email@example.com