Director Kelly Fremon Craig takes on the classic children’s book Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. Writing with the original author Judy Blume, the two capture everything that makes the story funny and poignant.
Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Forston) has just returned to New York City from summer camp. She quickly finds out the family is moving to New Jersey, where she won’t know anyone, will have to start again in a new school, and, worst of all, be further from her grandmother Sylvia (Kathy Bates). But her father Herb (Benny Safdie) and her mother Barbara (Rachel McAdams) convince her that it might not be so bad because they won’t be far and she can keep her old friends while making new ones. It turns out that making new friends is easy, but keeping up with them as a growing teenager, in more ways than one, is a bit more complicated. When Margaret turns to God for reassurance, she repeatedly finds Him silent, much to her frustration. But she continues to pray, hoping for any sign that could be an answer to her prayers.
Craig and Blume remain close to the book, much to the film’s benefit. The combination of humor, drama, and frustration weave through the more profound questions of adolescence, family, friendship, and faith. They don’t hold back with the areas that caused controversy when the book was released, although there are sure to still be complaints despite the more than fifty-year span between book and film releases. It is, as it should be, catered more to a female audience, but there are laughs and lessons for everyone. Craig directs the cast well, giving them cues on subtle or exaggerated expressions as the situation calls for it. All the actors meet the challenge well, especially Forston in the title role. McAdams, as the sometimes jaded, frustrated mother, stands out, too.
It isn’t often that a casting director hits a home run with every role. This is one of those rare instances. The actors look like they stepped out of the black and white illustrated pages of 1970s Scholastic Book Club editions or as the mind’s eye pictured them when reading these coveted books as a teen. Fans of the book will especially love seeing the most memorable moments played out exactly as they imagined it when they first read them - with all the hilarity, frustration, and heartbreak. The sets and props call back to the presumed innocence of 1970, from decorations to garage sale items and even the school films that were shown to girls in health class. Rounding out the crew is a soundtrack that hits every note right. Every bit of this is so carefully balanced and executed that it creates a nostalgic and memorable film.
It’s been a long time coming for Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Although it seems like the film should have been made a quarter century earlier, it still stands up today because, despite the time that has passed and all the things in the world that are different, adolescent girls are still waiting for the same changes they always have.