Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret

      By Aaron Isenstein

A Multigenerational Coming-of-Age Masterpiece

Judy Blume’s novel Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret is a coming-of-age staple for youth. As a child, my mom bought the book for me, not just so I could feel more comfortable as I grew up but also because she thought I would relate to it as my mother is Catholic and my father is Jewish. While I don’t remember many specific details of the book, I do remember going back to reread any pages about kissing, sex, and boys over and over again. At its core, that’s what this story is about: those little things you do and become curious about as you go through puberty. 

There aren’t many coming of age stories about female teenage puberty. Most coming-of-age stories about girls are about high school. Most coming-of-age stories about puberty are about boys. The film adaptation of this classic provides the unique experience of both being profoundly relatable and scratching an itch no film quite has before. This combined with exquisite performances and charmingly wonderful writing makes for one of the best coming of age movies to come out in recent years.

This film would not work without its exceptional ensemble, complete with genuinely fantastic child performances. Abby Ryder Fortson as the titular character is marvelous and gives one of the best performances of the year. She’s so authentic in this role and brings so much energy to her role. Her friend group consists of Elle Graham, Amari Alexis Price, and Katherine Mallen Kupferer, who are all exceptional in their roles. They truly all feel like people you were friends with in middle school, and they thankfully never fall into the traditional pitfalls of child acting. 

The adults are similarly fantastic too, though! Kathy Bates as Margaret’s fiery Jewish grandma is such a fun role and it’s obvious how much Bates was enjoying herself. Her strong presence is always appreciated whenever she’s on-screen. Despite having a smaller role, Echo Kellum as her teacher Mr. Benedict is one of the best portions of the film, making the most out of his small time and feels incredibly influential. Benny Safdie doesn’t do much as her father, but is a wonderful presence to have alongside the film. The best performance however, has to be Rachel McAdams. McAdams plays Margaret’s mother Barbara, who is actually “coming of age” alongside her daughter. After she moved from the city, she’s unsure about what to do with herself as she grapples with the trauma of her own past. McAdams brings everything she has to Barbara, giving an outstandingly layered performance. She escapes the traps and clichés of your stereotypical mother performance, partly thanks to her character's genuine, heartfelt writing, and showcases her journey beautifully as it parallels that of Margaret. Everyone in the theater will be able to relate to at least one of the characters. In fact, they might even see a little bit of themselves in all of them.

As the title would suggest, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has some of the most complex and nuanced takes on religion I’ve seen in any film. Margaret is allowed to choose her own religion, but she can’t decide whether she wants to be a Christian or be Jewish. She has an internal monologue with God, where she asks for guidance in her life and apologizes for her religious hesitation. This film never portrays either religion as good or bad. It simply shows  that they exist and are important to many people. It also acknowledges how religion can both cause wars and save people at the same time. In a time where it feels like every religious film borders on problematic Christian propaganda, this film’s religious commentary is so refreshing to see and sure to hit home for so many people.

Throughout the 106 minute runtime, this film can be a wonderful throwback to childhood years for an older audience and a relatable comedy for a younger audience. It’s so charming and relentlessly enjoyable that I truly cannot think of any reason for people to dislike it. I’m so grateful that a new generation of kids will be able to experience this life-affirming film, and it has left such an impact on me.