“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” (2023)- Movie Review

Writer/Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

Starring: Abby Fortson, Rachel McAdams, Benny Safdie 

                                                                                                                   ‘Astonishing Adaptation’

Few novels about teenagers captivate readers like “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”. Following its 1970 publication, Judy Blume’s book has achieved appreciation for huge depiction of little women. A phenomenal piece of literature, it captured perks faced by wallflower teenagers. The novel motivated women wearing the color purple. As celebrated as Jane Austen, the book captured women’s society restrictions. It attracted the breakfast club generation. It became one of the first novels to address roles religion plays in ensuring Lady Bird teenagers’ success. Today, the novel remains relevant in the 21st Century. Fifty years later, everyone connects with this literature. From a personal point-of-view, I found the novel to be relatable. I scarcely understood religion until my family moved neighborhoods in boyhood. My family’s decisions to immigrate to Canada led to religious affiliations. Truth be told, I was fifteen years old when my family changed households. In the eighth grade, immigration left me afraid. In a hopeless situation, religion gave my clueless life direction. Praying became my routine at the edge of seventeen. To give credit where its due, faith changed my worldview. Ability to pray paved the way for my success today. Like Margaret, religion allowed me to forget regret. Years after I immigrated, I’ve wanted to see a book with which I resonated adapted. Despite its huge fan following, the book’s banning has made adapting it into films challenging.

Now, Judy Blume’s commemorated book is adapted in Kelly Fremon Craig’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”. Intimate, heartwarming and meaningful, it offers fresh literature interpretations. Craig encapsulates adolescence. Boasting exquisite production-design, soul-stirring storytelling and phenomenal performances, it’s an extraordinary adaptation. Although “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is unforgettable, it isn’t flawless. Its slow pace tests viewers’ patience. Nevertheless, it provides meaningful entertainment for the novel’s fans. 

Amidst New Jersey, “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” chronicles an adolescent girl’s self-discovery journey. Abby Ryder Fortson personifies Margaret, an adolescent facing complicated emotions following her family’s immigration decisions. Margaret is afraid that moving cities will cause happiness to fade in the sixth grade. However, Margaret witnesses glimmers of hope when she practices prayers. Experiencing religious connections, Margaret overcomes frightening lifetime transitions.

Kelly Fremon Craig is fascinated with lives of tormented teenagers. Following 2016’s “The Edge of Seventeen”, Craig has become a fantastic filmmaker. Her debut “The Edge of Seventeen” investigated teen girls fighting mean best friends at age of seventeen. With “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”, however, Craig crafts her first adaptation. It’s Craig’s attempt adapting a novel about teen girls to the big-screen, but she succeeds. Evoking Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”, Craig scouts American neighborhoods showcasing immigration. Like Mason’s journey moving neighborhoods in boyhood, Margaret immigrates in adolescence. Neighborhoods are complicated settings. As Nat Faxon & Jim Rash’s “The Way Way Back” proved, neighborhood locations elevate stories about teenagers travelling the way back on vacations. Nevertheless, it succeeds. Alongside cinematographer Tim Ives, Craig visualizes immigration. Craig captures the book’s beauty, crafting big-screen viewing.

If adaptations don’t attract attention, however, there’s several reasons to see “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”. From technical perspectives, it’s unlikely you will see an adaptation as effective. Craig reconstructs the book’s settings through stunning set-design. Assisted by set-designer Steve Saklad, Craig recreates the book’s churches through set-design. For instance, set-design demonstrates religiosity in the church sequence. During this unforgettable scene, Margaret visits a Jewish synagogue for the first time with her grandmother. One appreciates the church’s set-design demonstrating Margaret’s identity reminiscent of Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird”. Like Lady Bird’s self-discovery journey, Margaret questions faith. Furthermore, Ann Roth’s costume-design is extraordinary. Evoking Autumn de Wilde’s “Emma”, costumes resembling Jane Austen demonstrate Margaret’s transformation into an independent woman. Through phenomenal set-design, Craig demonstrates spirituality.

Another extraordinary “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” aspect is the screenplay. Craig’s screenwriting strength is capturing religion’s impact on teenagers through voice-over narration. In Hollywood, adolescence movies rarely address religion’s profound influence giving teenagers guidance. As a case-in-point: John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club” depicted teenagers as mischievous individuals in breakfast club detentions without need for religion. Fortunately, however, “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” avoids the coming-of-age genre’s religious stigma. Inspired by Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple”, Craig expertly uses voice-over narration to showcase Margaret’s connection with religion. Like “Dear God” letters Celie writes overcoming adversities, Margaret prays to overcome immigration. Craig constructs a compelling character audiences relate with. Witnessing Margaret praying sparked memories of my religious upbringing. Voice-over narration is complicated. As Amy Heckerling’s “Clueless” proved, narration elevates comedies about clueless adolescents whose matchmaking is meaningless. Nevertheless, it succeeds. Through thought-provoking storytelling, Craig commemorates teenagers.

One appreciates astonishing performances.

Abby Ryder Fortson delivers a breakthrough performance as Margaret Simon. In first noteworthy role, Fortson pours her soul into a teenager experiencing emotional toll. It’s challenging portraying an adolescent girl following religious way when life goes astray, but Fortson succeeds. Evoking Elsie Fisher in Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade”, Fortson embodies an adolescent afraid of judgement in eighth grade. Through mesmerizing expressions, she demonstrates compassion, childlike innocence and misunderstandings of an adolescent experiencing religious connections. It’s a star-making performance. 

The supporting cast is superb, crafting strong bonds. Rachael McAdams is amazing, bringing affection acknowledgements to a compassionate mother facing pressures to ensure her daughter’s bright futures. Benny Safdie is brilliant, imbuing humanity to a hardworking father raising a household. Finally, Kathy Bates deserves acknowledgements. As Margaret’s grandma, she’s hilarious.

Finally, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” earns appreciations portraying perks faced by wallflower teenagers in party celebrations. Recalling Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, the film captures adolescence. Like Charlie’s high-school journey, Margaret finds her identity. The film tackles larger-than-life topics including body image, puberty and religion. Viewers aren’t required to read the book to enjoy the movie. Being religious, I connected with Margaret’s journey. Therefore, it’s an adaptation that everyone will adore.

Despite its universal message, however, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” can’t capture powerful prayers muttered by teenage girls in superior source material leaping off the page. The adaptation makes significant changes to the book which won’t please its devoted fans. Unlike the book’s emphasis on Margaret’s journey, the movie spends sequences exploring her mother’s responsibility. Craig’s decisions to deviate from source material by focusing on Margaret’s mother is bold but hinders pacing. Therefore, subplots about the mother’s community participation aren’t as engaging as Margaret’s journey. As Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” proved, mother subplots elevate adaptations about little women. Consequently, the adaptation falters.

Nevertheless, the book’s fans will recognize “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” and so will audiences acknowledging religion. An amazing adaptation, it celebrates a novel about the positive effects of religion on little women. Nearly 50 years after a commemorated literary classic book about teenage girls seeking religious identities acknowledgements got banned from libraries, it’s a strong tribute to a timeless book about teens that could unquestionably inspire youth experiencing immigration anxieties to adopt religious identities overcoming institutionalization adversities.

Like the bright lights at end of the dark tunnel that guides women in celebrated novels, it’s an inspirational reminder about power of faith allowing black women to reunite with lost sisters on farm fields filled with flowers that shine the color purple.

A devastating depiction of depression endured by teenagers that experience painful process of immigration, it’s a rousing reminder about mental health barriers experienced by wallflower adolescents rarely finding perks in moving neighborhood locations. 

If movies can guide adolescents experiencing the tough life transition of immigration in the right direction, hopefully it will allow modern teenagers moving neighborhoods throughout 12 years of boyhood to overcome tension by acknowledgements of religion. 

As powerful as the personal prayers performed by Margaret facing threat, it’s reassuring to be reminded that religion has set positive examples guiding me to let go of past immigration regret by a larger-than-life book that has been unquestionably impossible to forget.

4.5/5 stars

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