One of My Favorite Films So Far of 2023
Judy Blume's beloved novel shines on the big screen
In my last post, I touched on why the first three months of the year often don’t give us the best films of the year. I also noted that April is often the first month each year that gives us some great stuff. 2023 was no exception as the film adaption of Judy Blume’s classic work of young adult literature, “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret” absolutely blew me away.
For those who may not be familiar with the book, "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" follows 11-year-old Margaret Simon as she navigates the ups and downs of adolescence. From starting a new school to dealing with her changing body to exploring her spirituality, Margaret faces these challenges in a way that many can relate to from their time in early adolescence.
There are certain films that I walk into expecting to like a great deal or impact me in a meaningful way, but I am perfectly fine admitting that I didn’t anticipate this to be one of those for me. While Judy Blume’s work has been impactful to both boys and girls through the years, there is no denying that this book in particular likely has a fond place in the hearts of girls who read this at a young age. How do I know that is true? Well, when I saw the film in an almost sold out theater, I was quite literally the only guy in the whole theater (which my girlfriend made sure to give me a hard time about). Given those circumstances, it would have been pretty realistic to assume that the film wasn’t made for a guy in their 20s. Little did I know this film would touch me in a way that a film hasn’t in quite some time.
Director Kelly Craig did many things that are remarkable in this film, but two specifically stood out to me when watching:
Tone - with a coming of age story with as much weight as this one, it would have been very easy for the whole thing to feel heavy. At the same time, their are parts of the film that are authentically funny and without careful stewarding the whole thing could have easily felt like a Disney Channel movie. Both of those extremes were thankfully avoided and the film feels light as a cloud while also having a seriousness to it. A whole book could be written about what Craig does tonally in this film because there are about 99 other versions of this film (say done by Netflix) that wouldn’t work at all. Thankfully, the needle was threaded ever so perfectly here and it should be celebrated because it rarely happens these days.
Something for everyone - Craig very intentionally took a novel that was written for young adolescent girls and made it a film that is for the whole family. This was done by specifically honing in on the mother and the grandma characters and crafting them much more into real people than they seemed in the book. Craig used her own experiences as a mother to breathe life into the adults throughout the story, specifically Margaret’s mother, portrayed by Rachel McAdams on screen. While the book is primarily from Margaret’s perspective, the film very beautifully shifts the perspective at times to the adults. The whole film oozes with the innocence of childhood, but also carries the weight of the burden that comes with raising a child well in this world. After all, middle school girls aren’t the only ones trying to find their place in this world.
Many more things are worth mentioning about how great the film is from top to bottom, but for the sake of time, I will stop at the phenomenal performances throughout the film. Rachel McAdams is on another level as Margaret’s mom. McAdams has always given off the energy of a cool mom so it shouldn’t be surprising that she knocks this out of the park. She has always been a very reactive and empathetic actress when it comes to her mannerisms and facial reactions, which works out wonderfully when the role is that of the mom of a middle schooler. There are multiple times in the film where she doesn’t get the opportunity to say what she wants, but the audience knows exactly what she is thinking due to her subtle but noticeable facial cues. On top of that, her tenderness and caring spirit jump off the screen and feel like a warm hug to the whole audience, not just to her on screen daughter. It is far too early (and probably unrealistic) to speak an Oscar nomination into existence, but she is that good. I am sure that by the time the academy nominates no one will be thinking of this performance, but if the end of the year was today, she would be my vote for best supporting actress. In addition to the knockout performance by McAdams, Benny Safdie and Kathy Bates turn in great performances for Margaret’s dad and grandma, respectively. Additionally, the child performances (especially Abby Forsten as the titular Margaret) are reminiscent of the great child performances on screen in the 80s and 90s.
Overall, I can’t recommend “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret”, enough. The infectious energy and overall aesthetic of the film will leave you smiling days after you have seen it. Whether you are a child, the parent of a child, or were once a child, there is something for everyone. Easily one of my favorites of 2023 so far.
Rating - 4/5
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