“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” plays at the M.V. Film Center on Thursday, May 4. What a pleasure to see the celebrated book by Judy Blume made into a movie. Early on, she even introduces a Hitchcock tactic, by appearing briefly in person as a passerby.
The film describes Margaret’s at times stressful coming of age. The viewers see her arriving home from camp in a big blue 1970s bus. The bad news is that thanks to her dad’s promotion, she’s leaving New York City for New Jersey.
Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, the film stars Abby Ryder Fortson as 11-year-old Margaret Simon, on the brink of becoming a teenager. Her parents are played by a Christian, Barbara (Rachel McAdams), and a Jew, Herb (Benny Safdie), along with her pointedly Jewish grandmother Sylvia, played by Kathy Bates. Sylvia is, unfortunately, left behind in Manhattan, but Margaret visits her there.
Nancy (Elle Graham) introduces herself to Margaret practically as soon as Margaret arrives, as a domineering friend who invites her to run through the sprinklers and then to join the secret club where she is introduced to such matters as obsessions about breast size and which of the girls will menstruate first. Gretchen (Katherine Mallen Kupferer) and Janie (Amari Price) are the other members of the group, who introduce Margaret to youthful social pressures and those of the group’s lying, as well as their obsessions about boys. A schoolteacher shows the group a graphic film about sexuality that the girls chat about comically. This kind of genuine openness characterizes the world of preteens that the film describes.
A recurrent theme is Margaret’s questions about religion. Her parents have encouraged her to wait until she’s an adult to decide whether she’ll pick Christianity or Judaism, but Margaret has her own ideas about God, and talks to the deity throughout the film. This concern is especially because her mother’s parents have rejected her for marrying a Jew, and Margaret is caught in the middle of this conflict.
Nancy’s brother Evan (Landon S. Baxter) and his friend Moose (AidanWojtak-Hissong) illustrate in particular Nancy’s annoyance with siblings. The girls’ frustrations with the progress of their development lead to some funny scenes of getting training bras and exercising to the chant, “We must, we must, we must increase our busts,” followed by Evan and Moose catching them in the act. Scenes like this one keep the story light rather than too serious.
Margaret’s friends, especially Nancy, introduce her to the romantic world of boys, for instance when she plays spin the bottle at a party, and shares kisses with a popular boy. The four also gossip about Laura (Isol Young), whose body develops much sooner than theirs.
Religion remains a recurrent theme, with Margaret responding to the religious friction suggested by her parents and by writing about it in a class paper. Here Barbara comes into her own, through her frustration with PTA meetings and through a powerful scene when Barbara’s parents come to visit and an awkward dinner follows.
All in all, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is a film which is a delight and well worth watching.
Information and tickets to “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” are available at mvfilmsociety.com.