Kelly Fremon Craig surprised many with her 2016 feature film debut “The Edge of Seventeen”. The film was a smart, sincere, and funny hit that won over critics and audiences. Now she’s back with “Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret.”, a big screen adaptation of Judy Blume’s award-winning 1970 middle-grade novel of the same name. And what a delightful sophomore effort it is.
As she did before, Craig once again shows an impeccable grasp of her craft both as a writer and a director. It’s abundantly clear through her handling of characters, the pacing of her storytelling, her keen instincts with the camera, her management of tone, and her clear-eyed understanding of her material. She may be only two movies in, but Craig is already a treasure.
This faithful adaptation of Blume’s beloved novel is full of warmth, feeling, and well-placed laughs. It’s also clear-eyed and honest in its examination of a young girl’s quest for self-discovery. Thankfully Craig doesn’t pander to more modern expectations or feel some need to drastically overhaul the source material. But she doesn’t cut corners either. She stays true to the spirit of the book while also creating something pertinent for today. The result is a film that’s sure to resonate with women of all ages.
Much like she did with “The Edge of Seventeen”, Craig amasses an outstanding cast. With “Are You There God?” it all begins with her star, Abby Ryder Fortson. After being dropped by Marvel Studios following two really good “Ant-Man” movie performances (a blessing in disguise), Fortson landed the role of Margaret which she takes on with effervescence and charm. At the same time she also deftly captures a young girl’s awkwardness and angst with a wide-eyed authenticity. It’s tricky material yet Fortson never misses a step. She’s great.
Tagging “Are You There…” as a coming-of-age story seems like a disservice. It’s that and so much more. Much like Blume’s book, Craig’s film looks at growing up through an 11-year-old’s eyes. But it’s also about her deeper relationships with those within her small yet intimate family circle. Margaret is hands-down the story’s protagonist. But much of what makes the film great involves the wonderful collection of supporting characters, specifically Margaret’s mother Barbara (a sublime Rachel McAdams – more on her in a second).
Set in 1970, we first meet 11-year-old Margaret returning home from a fun-filled summer at Camp Minnewaska. But back home she’s broadsided with some surprising news. Her father Herb (a delightful Benny Safdie) has gotten a promotion and their family is moving to New Jersey. Anxious about leaving her friends, her school, and her loving yet aggressively opinionated grandmother Sylvia (Kathy Bates), Margaret reaches out to God, offering up awkwardly sweet petitions like “Please stop this move from happening” or “Please don’t let New Jersey be too horrible.”
Religion played a significant role in Blume’s book and does so in Craig’s film. Margaret lives in an interfaith household – her mother is Christian, her father is Jewish. But Barbara and Herb made a decision to let Margaret figure it out for herself. Her faith-finding journey not only reveals a young girl’s confusion and frustration, but it also unveils some long-standing family tensions which Craig handles with tenderness, empathy, and candor.
But just as much time is put into sorting through the highs, the lows, and the unknowns of girlhood. The story spans one year as Margaret adjusts to a new neighborhood, a new school, and new people. She’s befriended by the snotty and gossipy Nancy (a fantastic Elle Graham) whose lacerating slights are as hilarious as they are insulting (“I live in the bigger house up the street,” she utters without a thought.). Together with pals Gretchen (Katherine Kupferer) and Janie (Amari Price), the four form a secret girls-only club and have hilariously earnest discussions about such topics as cute boys, wearing bras, and getting their periods. Of course everything is perception for these young girls on the cusp of womanhood. They don’t really know what they’re wishing for and that’s what makes their conversations so endearing.
Through it all Margaret keeps conversing with God, wrestling with faith, and sorting through an array of conflicting feelings. Sweet visits with her grandmother bring back the warm comforts of the way things used to be. At the same time she’s growing impatient with her body in her rush to become a woman. It’s such a wonderfully chaotic representation of the whirlwind emotions girls can experience at that stage of their life.
Back to McAdams, is it too early to start my Best Supporting Actress campaign? She gives an award-worthy turn that I was connected to from her very first scene. Perfectly calibrated, she plays more than just a prototypical movie mom who slips in from time to time to offer motherly support. Barbara is a loving parent who McAdams captures with warmth and grace. She’s also suppressing her own vulnerability and insecurities for the sake of supporting her family – something that plays out in a thoughtful compelling side story. It’s a great character and an even better performance.
“Are You There God?…” is a joy-filled straight-shooting feature brimming with heart, humor, honesty, and a broad appeal that makes it a must-see for ANY audience. It never condescends to its younger viewers. It never comes across as mawkish or contrived. And it completely earns its big emotional payoff. It’s energized by the star-making performance from Abby Ryder Fortson and grounded by some of Rachel McAdams’ best work to date. And it all coalesces under the care and craftsmanship of Kelly Fremon Craig, a relatively new filmmaker who has already cemented herself as one of our most exciting voices. “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret?” Opens in theaters Friday.
I’ll wait for this to stream, sounds good!
It really is. Such a pleasant surprise all the way around.
I will check this out based on this review. Thanks.
I was really surprised and won over by it.
I don’t think I will see this in the theaters but I do hope to see it before the end of the year.
Plus, I think you’re right on Fortson not doing Marvel films right now as she was one of the key things in the first 2 Ant-Man films that made them fun to watch. Especially in the 2nd film which I think gets really overlooked in terms of its humor, character development, stakes, and its usage of the ensemble in comparison to the most recent film. I know people do feel bad for Emma Fuhrmann who only appeared briefly in Avengers: Endgame as Cassie but… now I think she is probably going “whew!” in not having to continue.
I’m with you on Ant-Man & the Wasp. Underrated movie for sure.
But definitely make time for “Margaret”. Such a wonderful surprise.
I’m so excited for this! I love Judy Blume. She was one of my favorite authors as a kid, and I still have my old copy of Blubber.
It’s just my guess, but I’m betting you will LOVE this movie. I can’t wait to see it again!