Let’s praise the Lord and these smart young women.
I apologize to my loyal readers for never even hearing about Judy Blume’s popular book “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” but I can acknowledge that it was published in 1970 and reflects on early adolescence for teenage girls regarding periods and boys. It was not without its commenters who disapproved of the subject matter at the time. Blume rejected numerous offers to make this movie version, until she found writer/director Kelly Freeman Craig and producer James L. Brooks, who both made “The Edge of Seventeen.” Both these films are about smart young women, who have their own struggles of dealing with puberty, and are played by young actresses who are able to expand their horizons.
Take Abby Ryder Fortson, the cute child actress who played Cassie Lang in the first two “Ant-Man” movies. She’s now a 15-year-old actress playing a girl named Margaret Simon, who is going on 12, just relocated from New York to New Jersey, and feels she needs to be having her period soon. Either it’s her age talking or some of the new friends she’s making like Nancy Wheeler (Elle Graham), who starts a secret club which requires them to not wear socks and reveal their interests in boys. This club even suggests that her mother Barbara (Rachel McAdams) should buy her a bra, even though her breasts haven’t grown in yet.
Two weeks ago, I panned “Mafia Mamma” for having some of the least amount of common sense of a chick flick and for wasting such fine actresses as Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci. I’m more than glad it’s dying a well deserved death at the box office. “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is made for the same crowd, but is wiser, sweeter, and funnier than that bomb will ever be. In fact, it’s one of the year’s most delightful films, and May hasn’t even begun yet.
The story also questions the different religious faiths, and how it affects people. Margaret’s father (Benny Safdie) is Jewish and her mother is Christian, and they allow her to choose her own religion when she gets older. Although, her fun-loving grandma (Kathy Bates) wants her to be Jewish, while she never met her other pair, because they disowned her mother for marrying her Jewish father.
On the side, Margaret has a crush on Moose (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong), who is the friend of Nancy’s jerky brother Evan (Landon St. Baxter). And Laura (Isol Young) is the tallest girl in class, who is labeled an outsider and is accused of fooling around with Moose by an A&P dumpster.
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” knows when to be funny and sweet without being so condescending. I’ve seen “The Starling Girl” at the Sundance Film Festival’s virtual screening, and it was a coming of age drama that took place in a religious community, where all Hell breaks loose when it’s main heroine is caught in an affair. I praised it for its performances and ambiance, but I prefer “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” even more for its flexibility. It doesn’t take place in a religious community, but it does allow the girl to question which faith she wishes to follow. And it doesn’t take the irritable approach.
There’s a lot of delightful performances-from Fortson to McAdams to Bates-as well as some honest and consistent laughs. Kelly Freeman Craig knows a fresh coming of age story when she sees it, and it’s all thanks to Judy Blume.