‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ is a Potpourri of Heartfelt, Humane and Hilarious Emotions
- A coming of age story of a young girl and her anxiety about relocation to a new school, her adolescence, peer pressure and questions about religion.
Based on the popular novel of the same name, by Judy Blume: “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” is a story about a diffident “only child” Margaret played by the talented and charming Abby Ryder Fortson. She fits the part like a glove. Margaret finds herself anxious to fit in her comfort zone with Nancy (the girl from the big house) after her family moves away from Manhattan to the suburban life of New Jersey.
I was impressed by Kathy Bates’ portrayal of a very realistic grandmother. She is glamorous in her red hair, stylish silk kimonos/kaftans and multilayered chokers, but what I love about her is her genuine warmth for her granddaughter and outspoken demeanor.
Margaret is a happy girl living with her young parents, played by the charming artist and art teacher Rachel McAdams, her mother and a zany Benny Safdie, as the macho dad who loves to mow his yard with a brand new lawn mower. Once they arrive in the new home, McAdams gets ready with unpacking, redecorating the new home and volunteering at the PTA. Margaret has to start all over again.
I remember how hard it was for my daughter to move from elementary school in New York to Houston, and then again to Alabama. She fretted and fumed for a long time and was upset to leave her friends behind. She still feels a twinge of sadness as she examines her childhood friends in picture albums. Margaret (like my daughter) had to leave behind her doting grandma. I loved the part when Margaret takes a bus ride on her own from Jersey to Manhattan to watch a show and spend the weekend with Kathy Bates.
It is amusing that Margaret is relieved to see two nuns on her bus. But like my daughter did, Margaret also makes new friends soon, (Nancy-Elle Graham and Price played by Amari Alexis) but they confuse her more as they start a “race” for growing into womanhood. This and a sense of inherent loneliness send Margaret into turning to God for answers.
And building solid and vibrant stories like this that can connect to audiences all across the board is an incredible skill. “Are You There God?” is a light-hearted, quirky summer film that will remind every woman of her adolescence. Sweet. Painful. Confusing. Tearful. Bittersweet. The bright and talented writer and director Kelly Fremon Craig helps Margaret navigate her circumstances in a somewhat messy but realistic and optimistic manner. The narrative does not snag or slacken. It keeps moving along at a delightful pace.
Margaret uses her inner guiding light, her true religion: her “conscience” to make the right decisions about friends, religion, and herself. Her parents do their best to support her and keep her out of the dominating influence of her paternal Jewish grandmother and devout Christian maternal grandparents who want her to be baptized. In the end, Margaret’s prayers are answered not in the Jewish temple, not at the “confession,” not even at the liturgical chapel music but through self-contemplation. She completes an assignment for school about religion and feels a burden lifted off her “frail” feminine shoulders.
I know that the film targets a Christian audience but I think Asian kids growing up in America may feel the same hesitation if they do not understand the rituals and prayers chanted in Hindu temples, gurudwaras, or masjids. Religion is very personal and with a lot of multi-ethnic marriages, it will become more relevant for parents and grandparents not to impose their religious beliefs on their children.
On the other hand, just naturally Margaret finds answers to her prayers. While she is busy with her school assignments, making new friends, overcoming prejudice, trying out new clothes, getting dressed for birthday parties, buying feminine hygiene products, playing “spin the bottle” and “two minutes in a closet,” experiencing her first kiss. Voila! She is a woman!
In the last scene, after a well-deserved hug from her mother, a more confident Margaret is off to summer camp with a promise of a date with her “crush.” I am sure Abby Ryder Fortson will wow us again with her talent. “It’s Me, Margaret” –A potpourri of heartfelt, humane and hilarious emotions in the right measure.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, and essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.