Judy Blume’s seminal novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has gotten the prestige blockbuster treatment courtesy of writer and director Kelly Fremon Craig. The film Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (2023) is as sentimental as Now & Then (1995), as frank as Eighth Grade (2018) and never as corny as one would expect. Craig’s nostalgia is never saccharine. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is that rare bit of Oscar bait that is legitimately enjoyable and affecting.
Craig masterfully gives voice to that awkward pre-teen age in adapting Blume’s novel. All of Margaret’s (Abby Ryder Fortson) anxieties and experiences remain relevant; often prompting the audience to engage with the emotional muscle memory of their own youth. Margaret’s misadventures are simultaneously hilarious and dramatically moving. The terror of sex education, spats with friends, and the first steps towards independence are all executed delicately walking that fine line between comedy and melodrama.
There’s an undeniable similarity between Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and the debut feature of that film’s producer, James L. Brooks. Brooks’ Terms Of Endearment (1983) is another film about mothers and daughters navigating the growing pains of life, though much further along than Margaret and her mother Barbara (Rachel McAdams). Brooks’ film is a tragedy, but as it twists and turns to its heartbreaking finale it careens headlong into comedy. Brooks’ ability to shift and balance the tone of scenes has clearly informed Craig’s own approach to the Judy Blume material.
The weakest part of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is in its use of pop songs on its soundtrack. The filmmakers have selected songs from the sixties and early seventies that have been used in commercials and other nostalgic dramas for years. Suddenly a scene in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret will suddenly remind the viewer of a television ad or a scene from Matilda (1996), effectively drawing the viewer’s attention to the artifice of the illusion. This not only undermines the spectator’s engagement with the film, but also the content of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
These negative criticisms regarding Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret‘s jukebox soundtrack could be applied to the bulk of blockbuster movies that come out this year. It’s unfortunate but luckily it isn’t enough to dispel the magic of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is expertly written, well directed, and superbly acted by its ensemble; this is one not to be missed.