“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret:” Finally Putting a Face to the Name


Katherine Tewksbury, Contributing Writer

The thing about growing up and out of those uncomfortable adolescent years is the farther I get from them, the fonder I get of them. Despite the tastefully selective nature of memories, movies can bring the blunt reality of adolescence right back without time’s flattering haze. Kelly Fremon Craig’s gracious adaptation of Judy Blume’s beloved 1970’s novel, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” does exactly that. The film follows Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson), an 11-year-old girl who comes home from summer camp only to learn she must say goodbye to her New York City neighborhood and best friend, her grandmother. Horrified, Margaret takes her first crack at prayer, begging the to-be-determined God, “Please don’t let New Jersey be too horrible.” This sudden move rides the coattails of a story that was already set in motion. And, as if the fixations of your typical bra-stuffing and arm-crossing preteen aren’t enough, Margaret assigns herself the task of finally getting to the bottom of this whole religion thing. 

As Margaret moves into her new New Jersey home, her fear of finding friends is swiftly replaced with a fear of fitting in when Nancy (Elle Graham), who says she’s from the “bigger house up the street,” graces the Simon’s doorstep with all her self-assured charm and invites Margaret to join her secret girl’s club. Of course, no friendship club is without its rules: no one can lie, and everyone must tell when they get their period for the first time. Funny how two rules are always harder to follow than one. 

Margaret is officially indoctrinated into the club when, despite her mom’s cautionary advice, she shows up to school in her loafers without the ever-so-embarrassing burden of socks. With the right of passage that is blister-clad heels come all the other facets of middle school: the basement birthday party for the kid “no one likes”; the first kiss (multiple kisses!) in the closet of said basement; the boy whose name always follows a “the” so as to emphasize his dreaminess; the girl whose name always requires an eye roll so as to lessen her allure; the crucial desire for inclusion and its accompanying necessity for exclusion; the door slams, the brother’s friend, the clenched hands, the “because I can’s”; the coming home just to leave again; and the ditching your mom for faker friends. 

As Margaret navigates the 6th grade, her mom, Barbara Simon (Rachel McAdams), adjusts to her new life as a suburban stay-at-home mom. In the beginning, Barbara reassures Margaret about the move, saying that since she’ll no longer be working, she’ll be able to hang out with Margaret “all the time!” Nancy’s boisterous arrival brings about the juxtaposed emotions parents face when you’re glad your child has a friend to hang out with, but when that also means it’s no longer with you. It’s hard to watch this movie through eyes other than the mom’s as she patiently watches her daughter stumble through age 11, unable to do anything but casually pace across Margaret’s bedroom door in case there’s ever a time she’s called to pass through its frame. 

Although the film’s throughline is all things menstruation, it speaks to everyone, evident by the cackles bellowing from behind me that sounded a little too deep and full-bellied to come from any woman watching the bra stuffing scene. Even with the nostalgia of 70s memorabilia going right over this particular Gen-Z’s head, there’s an incredibly transportive quality about this movie as previous all-consuming insecurities begin to resemble fun-sized pieces of nostalgic discomfort. 

The conflicts, resolutions, and pacing are among the many tempered aspects of the film. These tasteful deviations from Hollywood conventions show Craig’s respect for growing pains. “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is a grounded portrayal of adolescence, without the need to resort to Hollywood’s stash of major conflicts or twists. Because, the truth is, though these scattered struggles look small when we look back, they were huge when we faced them head-on. Craig even renders the realistic bad friend. The one that isn’t in all pink, isn’t an airhead and isn’t mean to your face or even behind your back, but somehow still makes you feel insecure. 

That’s not to say the movie abandons Hollywood style entirely; it still has its tidy, feel-good charm. Whether it’s the Tic Tac cover-up that saved Margaret and her friend from what could’ve been a very uncomfortable checkout experience of only buying Softies, or the fact that neither of them had even ever had a period, the comedy alone is enough to make you fall in love with this precious film and its 32AA late bloomer. “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” takes us back to the moments we were so eager to rush through, but once we do, we can’t help but want back. So, instead, we go to the movies to revisit the years that are far easier to sneer at with the reassurance of hindsight and eight rows of movie theater seats.


Image courtesy of The New York Times