"Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." stars Rachel McAdams, Abby Ryder Fortson, Elle Graham, Benny Safdie, and Kathy Bates. Released on April 28, 2023, the film has a preteen searching for her religious identity.
The film was written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, who also wrote and directed "The Edge of Seventeen". She also wrote the short film "Streak" with Allan Loeb and "Post Grad". It is based on the 1970 novel by Judy Blume. We have that moment in our lives when we ask ourselves, "Who am I?". We know who we are physically but in an identity sense? That's a journey that allows us to delve deeper into something we never experienced before, improving our lives and relationships for the better. One girl is about to experience that adventure while navigating the usual trials of adolescence. Judy Blume's novel about a sixth-grader's journey of self-discovery was beloved by many for its depiction of sexual and religious topics. Even though it has been challenged for its frank discussion of those topics, there's no denying the story's ability to inspire millions of readers with similar questions, including girls. So it was a surprise that Hollywood decided to make a film adaptation of the novel 53 years after its debut. But, considering the source material's timeless themes, I guess any day it gets released seems appropriate. So, does it provide enough wholesomeness and talent to honor Blume's coming-of-age classic? Let's find out.
The story follows Margaret Simon (Fortson), an eleven-year-old girl living in New York City in the 1970s. After returning home from summer camp, Margaret gets the shocking news from her parents, Barbara (McAdams) and Herb (Safdie), that they're moving to New Jersey for Herb's job. This made her feel dejected about leaving the city and being further away from her grandmother Sylvia (Bates). Additionally, she resorts to communicating with God about her anxieties, thoughts, and hopes. Following their move to New Jersey, Margaret reveals that she and her family doesn't observe holidays due to her mother being a Christian and her dad a Jew. So Margaret sets out on a journey to find her own religious identity while navigating the pressures of adolescence.
I feel this review is long overdue, and it's not just because of what's happening in my life. Part of me wanted to see this movie because of its cast and filmmaker, Kelly Fremon Craig. Craig delivered a fantastic directorial debut with "The Edge of Seventeen", one of the films that launched Hailee Steinfeld into stardom. Additionally, it showcased Craig's profound understanding of adolescence from a woman's perspective. However, my other half wanted me to skip it due to my concern about it being another cheap and preachy faith-based film. While I don't mind the concept of religion in real life, I just don't have much interest in watching specific movies involving it. Yeah, I'm that complicated. After over a week, I eventually caved in and watched "Are You There God?" out of curiosity. I'm surprised to say that I don't regret that decision.
"Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." is a surprisingly affectionate and infectiously energetic portrayal of the everyday trials of adolescence, with a religious touch that's neither corny nor annoyingly manipulative. Of course, I didn't read the novel it's based on, so I'm not sure how much has changed in the adaptation. Regardless, the movie delivers more than enough to satisfy newcomers like me and fans of the novel. From the first scene depicting Margaret's brief summer camp montage to its satisfying conclusion, the movie has me constantly smiling from ear to ear while providing specific occasions of well-deserved and appropriately thoughtful emotion.
One thing I loved about Kelly Fremon Craig's "The Edge of Seventeen" is that she delivered a light-hearted yet mature approach to its coming-of-age themes. Her direction gave a genuinely heartfelt and charismatic feel to its presentation, and her screenplay had enough wit and sincerity to provide a realistic portrayal of teenage life. It was a modern-day coming-of-age teenage drama influenced by the classic teen comedies by John Hughes. "Are You There God?" had Craig accomplish this similar feat with a PG-13 rating instead of R. The result is exactly what I expected from the filmmaker regarding the direction and screenplay. The film is filled with charm and heart in the cast's chemistry, and its presentation is colorful amid its drama and teenage comedy.
More importantly, Craig's screenplay delivers an intelligent and faithful interpretation of adolescence in girls, especially from a religious perspective. But, of course, the movie also includes discussions of menstruation. The latter may have indicated that this movie only targets a female crowd. However, I can see the film being relatable to everyone regardless of its focus. It's not just because of the depictions of boys and girls experiencing changes in their bodies in different ways. It's also because of their self-discovery regarding their faith in God. The film offered a complex and thought-provoking depiction of expressing oneself with their beliefs, even without a religious identity.
The movie also benefitted profoundly from its fantastic cast, who put their heart and soul into making their characters lovable and engaging. Abby Ryder Fortson is best known for playing Cassie Lang in the first two "Ant-Man" films, and she's easily one of the best parts of these Marvel movies before being replaced twice afterward. Now, she's gone from the daughter of a Marvel superhero to an ordinary teenager searching for her religious identity. Like Hailee Steinfeld in "The Edge of Seventeen", Fortson proved to be another young actress full of talent and commitment regarding her career-best performance as Margaret. She matches the eagerness and charm of the titular teenager and provides the warmth and endearment of seeing Margaret embark on an adolescent quest to get her period. Rachel McAdams was also sublime as Barbara, who's on her quest to regain her true passion, and Elle Graham makes a solid impression as Nancy Wheeler, Margaret's friend and classmate. Finally, there's Kathy Bates, who's one of the film's highlights regarding her performance as Sylvia. Her humorous presence and sense of sincerity further showcase Bates as an excellent actress who's not afraid to have fun in specific roles.
Overall, "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." answered our film-going prayers with a lively and smartly written depiction of adolescence and religious identity. I was initially skeptical about this movie since I'm not that big into films involving religion, and you can thank the other preachy low-budget films for that. However, the movie proves that stories like this can work with the right talent behind and in front of the camera. From the excellent cast to Craig's uplifting direction and screenplay, the film will make you praise the Lord for all the right reasons. More importantly, it continues to showcase a bright and promising future for Kelly Fremon Craig regarding the coming-of-age genre. So if you're in the mood for something charming and heartfelt, you don't want to miss out on the biggest surprise of 2023 so far.
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