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Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. (2023)

Jake Lipson

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Title: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. (2023)

Tagline: Discovering who you are is a journey that lasts a lifetime.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

Cast: Abby Ryder Fortson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Benny Safdie, Elle Graham, Amari Alexis Price, Katherine Mallen Kupferer, Kate MacCluggage, Aidan Wojtak-Hissong, Landon S. Baxter, Echo Kellum, Mia Dillon, Gary Houston, Mackenzie Joy Potter, Olivia Williams, Mike Platarote Jr., Simms May, Zack Brooks, JeCobi Swain, Wilbur Fitzgerald, Ethan McDowell, Sloane Warren, Isol Young, Eden Lee, Naida Nelson, Tahirah Harrison, Zach Humphrey, Karen Aruj, Judy Blume, George Cooper, Joan Jackson, Stephen Jackson, Robert Haulbrook, Johnny Land, Jennifer Errington, Evan Bergman, Michael Wolk, Karen Macarah, Ariel DiDonato, Claude Deuce, Keya Hamilton, Tanya J. McClellan, Dennis Delamar, Samantha LeBrocq, Wally White, Holli Saperstein, Deborah Helms, Cooper Herrett, Gezell Fleming, Jim France, Rakeem Massingill, Ian Ottis Goff

Release: 2023-04-27

Runtime: 106

Plot: When her family moves from the city to the suburbs, 11-year-old Margaret navigates new friends, feelings, and the beginning of adolescence.

 

Jake Lipson

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I'm surprised we didn't already have a thread for this movie. It is of course the adaptation of the famous novel by Judy Blume. Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig previously made The Edge of Seventeen.

AreYouThereGod.jpg

I read a lot of Judy Blume when I was younger and I am really looking forward to seeing this.

The trailer says it is "introducing Abby Ryder Fortson," and I had to laugh when I saw her listed that way. To be clear, I have no problem with her and think she is great. But she is not being "introduced" to the moviegoing public here. She originated the role of Cassie in the Ant-Man franchise before the character was aged up due to the blip. So she has already been entertaining large audiences for a while. I'm glad she got this and look forward to seeing what she can do in a leading role.
 
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Josh Steinberg

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She wrote books for boys too: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing was huge for me when I first read it. I liked Blume’s writing so much as a kid and adolescent that I wound up reading a bunch of the books that were more “girl oriented” and I think having that exposure to the invisible struggles my peers faced was really important growing up. I don’t know that I necessarily need to see the movie, but I’m glad I had her books growing up.
 

Josh Steinberg

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It’s funny, I didn’t think of them that way either and mostly discovered her writing on my own at the public library on summer breaks, and then when we’d come back to school and have to submit our summer reading lists, I’d notice I was the only boy with Judy Blume on his list, but that plenty of girls had those books on theirs. Otherwise I don’t think it would have occurred to me.
 

Adam Lenhardt

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I probably won't get around to seeing this in theaters, but the reason I'll definitely check it at some point is because Kelly Fremon Craig made it. The Edge of Seventeen was an unflinching look at late adolescence, sometimes hilariously so and other times excruciatingly so. That makes her the perfect choice to tell the seminal story of the anxiety and anguish of early adolescence.
 

Jake Lipson

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I'm sure I read a lot of Judy Blume, but the one I remember most is not Margaret. It is Blubber. My teacher read it to us in fourth or fifth grade. I couldn't tell you if it was fourth or fifth because the teacher "looped" with her classes. She taught fourth grade every other year and would keep the same class through the fifth grade level. But anyway, I remember that she chose to read Blubber to us out loud to us without reading it herself first because she knew Blume's other work so well and trusted that it would be appropriate.

I was not a big fan of recess, but I loved that book. So while everyone else was outside for recess, I would just sit in the classroom and pick up the copy of Blubber she was using and read ahead of where the class was listening to it. I remember this because there was something shocking near the end of it that I knew was coming before anyone else did, and it surprised even the teacher. I couldn't tell you what this plot point was, but I remember her surprise when she got to reading it out loud. I don't think it was anything inappropriate, but I remember a strong reaction to it for sure.

Of course, now that I'm writing out this story, I couldn't tell you what the surprise plot point actually was. This was a long time ago. But that experience stuck in my head. Now I need to read it again.

On another note, Amazon Prime is now streaming a new documentary about Judy Blume's life and career called JUDY BLUME FOREVER. It just went up yesterday, so I haven't watched it yet. But talking about this certainly makes me want to.
 
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Adam Lenhardt

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Of course, now that I'm writing out this story, I couldn't tell you what the surprise plot point actually was.
I'm guessing that it's when Wendy calls Tracy Wu a "chink". I remember that only because it was one of only two times I remember reading a racial slur in class, the other being The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
 

Jake Lipson

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Jason Goodmanson

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I know I read Judy Blume, but I confuse her and Beverly Clearly in my head so I can never keep the two separate. (Similar to how it's a major struggle for me to keep separate Forest Whitaker and Laurence Fishburne - heck, I barely come up with both of their names when I know one.)
 

Jake Lipson

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I don't remember when I first learned what "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" was. I've just always been able to identify it as Judy Blume's most famous wok. I also know that I read Judy Blume as a kid and think of her work with a certain fondness. But it had been a long time. I don't have any old copies on hand, although that's not so surprising given that we're talking about books I would have read over a quarter century ago. As I said earlier this week, Blubber was read to us when I was in fourth or fifth grade, and I know I read others. So I naturally assumed that I had read "Margaret" at some point. I got a new copy (now with Abby Ryder Fortson on the cover) to read it again before the movie.

61Uy0lkQGvL.jpg

But as I read it this week, I began not to be sure if I was reading it again or for the first time. It was a very weird experience because I've always known the book but I didn't remember much of it now. Frankly, this makes me feel old. Either I read it long enough ago to forget most of the plot or I was a Judy Blume fan who somehow missed out on reading her biggest work. In any case, it was great to read it as though it was a new experience. Of course, what Blume wrote as contemporary in 1970 is now a period piece, but it didn't read like one at all. Margaret's voice felt warm, real, and genuine, and the language still felt natural and not at all stilted or out of date. I felt like I could relate to Margaret's emotions even though I'm a guy and have never had to worry about periods or breasts. It is very clear why this book has lasted in the public consciousness for 53 years now.

So I entered the movie today as a long ago Judy Blume fan with a very recent experience of this particular novel. I can't say I had been anticipating the movie for years because I was able to read it fresh this week, but I have always held Judy Blume in high regard.

All that being said, I think this is one of the best film adaptations of any novel ever. It really delivers on every level. The big moments from the book are rendered faithfully, but it doesn't feel overly slavish. On the rare occasion that the movie does something slightly differently, the changes make sense and work for the film. Rachel McAdams is billed first in the credits, but this is Abby Ryder Fortson's movie and she carries it beautifully. She allows Margaret to be vulnerable, but she gives a very confident performance. I'm sure it was a challenge leading a film in a role as substantial as this one, but Fortson made it look easy. I never really felt like it was a performance because she was so natural that it felt like she was just living in front of me.

I had been hoping that Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania might fold in some flashbacks to the time during the Blip in order to be able to use Fortson as Cassie again. But having seen that dumpster fire of a film, and now with this turning out great, I can say that Fortson definitely traded way up in making this movie instead. I hope she has as long of a career as she wants to because I'd certainly go see her in more movies.

Rachel McAdams is really good too. Although Margaret is still our protagonist and entry point into the story, the film gives us more of Barbara's perspective too, which is nice. It is an expansion that makes sense and couldn't be done in quite the same way in the book where the entire thing was told to us by Margaret and therefore limited to her perspective. This is a really smart opening up of that relationship for the movie. It is certainly McAdams' best performance in a while, and the scenes between her and Fortson are just magical. Kathy Bates is a perfect choice for Sylvia and makes a big impression even though she has more of a supporting role. Benny Safdie is somebody who I associate more with directing films like Uncut Gems that seem way too intense for me, but he does a good job in an acting capacity here as Herb, Margaret's father. Really, I could just go on giving compliments to the entire cast, but it would probably be boring to read because at a certain point I'd just be saying variations on the same thing. Everybody in here is really well-cast and they seem natural and like they enjoyed working on the movie.

Kelly Fremon Craig directs it with sensitivity and frankness. The book was good and the script is a good adaptation of it. Craig seemed like she knew what she wanted. There was probably a way Hollywood could have tried to sanitize this material but this is not that movie. Like the book, the film doesn't shy away from discussing topics that some people might find provocative, but it isn't interested in shock value. Everything here works on a character level, and the discussion of getting periods and getting boobs, and Margaret's questions about religion, just come naturally out of that. None of it ever felt preachy to me because I was so invested in watching what the characters were doing. I should also say that Craig gets really good performances from the many young actors in the cast, which is not always easy to do, but whatever she did with them worked beautifully here. I am really looking forward to seeing what Craig makes next.

My early afternoon screening had no more than 20 people in it. I hope the film is able to find its audience, but based on the box office so far it seems like this will struggle to profit in the theatrical window. That would be too bad because I think it is important that these kinds of middle budget human story studio movies still have a place to get made. I can't wait for Guardians of the Galaxy later this week, but I'm so glad that a story like Margaret was still able to get made and get a wide theatrical release. I would hate it if the next movie like this ends up being sent straight to streaming because this one didn't do so well. The $30 million budget seems very reasonable and well-spent for the film that we got; I never looked at it and thought, "Why did this have to cost so much?", but I know a $6 million opening weekend will make it hard to profit from a budget like that.

Still, the movie is great and I'm so glad it exists and was made and released in this way. Obviously, we've still got most of the year In film ahead of us. But as of right now today, I would put it in Best Picture consideration. That Is probably a pipe dream, but it certainly is that well made. This is a really beautiful film. I doubt that anybody interested in it will come away disappointed. I absolutely felt taken on the full emotional ride today during it and I highly recommend it.
 
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Joe Wong

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I have not read a Judy Blume book. Not because I didn't want to - I just didn't know much (if at all) about her books.

Given the praise for both the book and the film, that has piqued my interest. And given it stars Rachel McAdams - one of my favourite actors - even better!

Another story about a young girl that warmed my heart back when I was in high school was the Canadian TV adaptation of Anne of Green Gables back in the mid-1980s. It's not a book that I may have read (again, I didn't know much about it), but the magnificent series inspired me to read the novel. I even tried recommending the show to my male friends (I attended an all-male high school) but they resisted and gave me some scorn - it was a "girl" book, after all. I tried telling them it was a great story with great characters and plenty of humour and emotions, whose protagonist just happened to be female. Oh, well - their loss! :)
 

Jake Lipson

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I have not read a Judy Blume book. Not because I didn't want to - I just didn't know much (if at all) about her books.

I recommend the book on its own merit. But you don't need it in order to understand and appreciate the movie. I suspect that a lot of the people who went to see it this weekend were probably Judy Blume fans. The question now is whether it will be able to broaden out beyond the audience already familiar with the book.

I hope you like it and look forward to hearing your thoughts after you've seen it.
 

JoeStemme

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Kelly Fremon Craig's sincere adaptation of Judy Blume's acclaimed novel maintains the author's early 1970s setting and respects the tone and tenor of the times. Much of the first half of the movie is a bit episodic, as if it were a pilot for a TV series, but it settles into an absorbing piece.

Abby Ryder Fortson plays Margaret as a wide-eyed 12 year old with a disarming smile. Like her female friends, she's absorbed with boys, school and the coming of adolescence. On that front Craig's screenplay largely succeeds due to Fortson and her fellow young actors.

More complicated is the religious element indicated by the title. Margaret's parents are from different religions. Her mom (Rachel McAdams) is Christian while her dad (Benny Safdie) is Jewish. They have left it up to her to decide what path she shall follow, so her private 'talks' with God are non-denominational. Unfortunately, when things come to a head, due in no small part to her meddling Grandmother (Kathy Bates), it seems forced. Fortunately, out of this strife, Margaret gains inner strength and learns that whatever religion she chooses (or none), the most important lesson is to be true to herself above all else. To believe in her own values and ideals. It's a refreshing bit of honesty in a movie based on young persons.

Fortson is the driving force here, but, McAdams is worth citing as a reminder of how good she can be on screen. ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET is a sweet movie, one that is as sincere as it is entertaining.
 

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