'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.' Review
April 26, 2023
I thoroughly hated the experience of watching Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
I hated it so much that I looked away from the screen for about a quarter of the runtime, as any continuation in staring would be a detriment to my physical and mental health, which was being depleted as if I was in a bare-knuckle brawl. I breathed a sigh of relief and my shoulders finally dropped back down to their normal position once Hans Zimmer’s score (yes, you read that right) took over once again and the credits began to roll.
But my displeasure and exhaustion were not spawned from the quality of the movie but of its content. I despise feeling second-hand embarrassment more than anything else in the world. Unluckily for me, both the Judy Blume book and film adaptation of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. are the most efficient and unfiltered deliverers of that exact nauseating feeling.
First-hand embarrassment is no picnic either, but at least that comes from my own actions. Why would anyone on Earth want to have that feeling shared with them when they’ve done nothing to deserve it? I’ve avoided most of the entire subgenre of cringe comedy, even though some of them look like they could be fun from time to time (Curb Your Enthusiasm). The Office narrowly avoids my disdain on account of its over-the-top antics that are beyond relatability.
The story centers on the 11-year-old titular character (Abby Ryder Fortson) in the 1970s as she navigates the time between childhood and adulthood. Her family has just moved from New York City to a suburb in New Jersey, one where people rake leaves, wash cars, and play in the street. Margaret and her newfound friends go through the experience of their changing bodies, developing feelings for the other gender, and every social situation being the most important thing in your entire life.
But Margaret is not riding alone in this arduous journey. It’s actually a three-generation affair as her mother Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and grandmother Sylvia (Kathy Bates) are also dealing with new surroundings and roles as caretakers. It goes to show that you’ve never really mastered life no matter how many times you’ve been around the block.
The best kinds of movies are the ones that make you feel something. Despite hating every feeling I experienced here, I know it all came from a good place. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig (The Edge of Seventeen) keeps both the specificity of the story and the universality of the themes intact, allowing everyone to apply Margaret’s journey to their own lives. All those painful memories of the stupid things you did as a teenager flood back to the surface. That pain is a good kind of hurt to authors Blume and Craig, as you haven’t really grown as a person if you can’t look back on your past mistakes.
Just as I give Craig credit for finding the emotional core of the movie, I also have to fault her for losing the stakes and structure. Almost all of the final act resolutions come too quickly and feel unsubstantiated. Everything being tidied up in a neat little bow also breaks the complexity and authenticity of the story. Fortunately, the central female trio are all great and do a lot to cover this pothole.
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret may tell an oversimplified story, but its low sights allow it to hit its target with precision. I can’t say I enjoyed it or will ever think about watching it again. Nonetheless, it’s a force that is trying to do good in the world, so I recommend people give it the chance to do just that.