Kelly Fremon Craig’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is an honest and mature coming-of-age film, elevated by some truly fantastic performances.
Growing up might just be one of the hardest challenges we face as humans. The constant curiosity, the bitter jealousy, the growing insecurity, there’s very little about the whole ordeal that feels pleasant. As a late bloomer myself who was filled with anxiety as a child, I was always about a dozen steps behind the other kids my age. I couldn’t grasp the concepts that they were obsessed with, and as a result, I found myself feeling more and more self-conscious with every day that passed. I was so desperate to fit in that I pushed myself into situations I didn’t at all feel comfortable with, and reflecting on that now as an adult, I realise just how much of my childhood I wasted, desperate to grow up. I bring all of this up because Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, despite the differences on a surface level, perfectly encapsulated what that part of my life was like.
An adaptation of the beloved 1970s children’s book by Judy Blume, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret follows the titular 11-year-old (Abby Ryder Fortson), as she moves into a brand new neighbourhood. Margaret hails from an incredibly religious family, with her father (Benny Safdie) being Jewish, and her mother (Rachel McAdams) identifying as a Christian. Not wanting to push either of their beliefs onto their only child, the two parents decide to let Margaret grow up agnostic, with her getting to choose her own religious identity for herself once she’s grown up. As the film plays out, prompted by her teacher (Echo Kellum), Margaret decides to explore and investigate both of these religions for herself, and hopefully eventually come to her own conclusion.
It’s an aspect of the film that’s handled far more respectfully and maturely than I initially expected, with the film rightfully refusing to outright label a certain side as correct. I definitely still think there’s a bit more room for development here, as whilst the argument presented is surprisingly nuanced, it does somewhat fail to touch upon some of the more positive sides of religion besides the ceremonies themselves being enjoyable. The whole topic is obviously an incredibly difficult one for any film to handle, let alone one like this with so many different themes it wants to juggle, but I would have loved to have seen the film present an even more complex argument.
The other major theme that the film tackles is puberty, and growing up in general. Now, as a cisgender male, I obviously can’t comment on how relatable the specifics of the story and the scenes are, but my girlfriend assures me that Margaret’s experience was incredibly similar to her own. She also made sure to tell me just how special it was to see this kind of story being presented as honestly as it is here on the big screen. If Pixar’s Turning Red (2022) proved anything last year, it’s that there’s still a massive stigma against menstruation being mentioned in family-oriented media, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. thankfully doesn’t at all shy away from these topics, tackling them head-on in as much detail as it can get away with.
A lot of why this film and its portrayal of these themes works so well is down to the performance of Abby Ryder Fortson. Previously best known for her role in Ant-Man (2015), she absolutely rules as the wide-eyed, naive lead of this film. At almost every turn, I could see a bit of my younger self reflected in her performance and character, and I honestly struggle to think of a film that succeeded in getting me emotionally engaged with its lead as fast as this one did. She’s not the only star performer here, as Rachel McAdams manages to steal every scene she’s in, elevating her role beyond any stereotype. Margaret’s hilarious Grandma (Kathy Bates) will be most people’s favourite character, and rightfully so, as her constant enthusiasm and overwhelming love towards her granddaughter is truly admirable and sometimes genuinely emotional.
With Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Kelly Fremon Craig has successfully established herself as one of my favourite directors working in Hollywood today. There’s something about her brand of feel-good, relatable coming-of-age stories that are just so much better than the vast majority of studio comedies being released today. Maybe it’s due to the fact that they’re actually funny, maybe it’s due to the brilliant performances, or maybe it’s due to just how well-written the characters are. Whatever the reason is, I cannot wait to see what she does next, because I know that I will be first in line, with my tissues ready, braced for another crying session.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was released in US theaters on April 28, 2023, and is now showing in UK cinemas.