Deborah Ross

Warm, charming and tender: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret reviewed

I assumed I'd be bored to death but this Judy Blume adaptation is much better than anything else I've seen recently

Abby Ryder Fortson (Margaret Simon) and Kathy Bates (Sylvia) in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. Image: Dana Hawley / Courtesy of Lionsgate UK

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is an adaptation of Judy Blume’s seminal young adult novel (1970) about an 11-year-old girl who talks to God about her friends and boys and who she wants to kiss and whether she’ll ever get breasts or menstruate. (This could also be called Are You There, Margaret? It’s Me, Your Period, and I’ll Come When I’m Ready!) Not being the target demographic, I assumed I’d be bored to death but, ever the professional, I drank 12 espressos and 17 cans of Red Bull beforehand. That turned out to be wholly unnecessary. This is a wonderfully charming, warm, tender, pitch-perfect film, much better than anything else I’ve seen recently. So that’s a good outcome, even if I did jangle for days afterwards.

This is a charming, warm, tender, pitch-perfect film, much better than anything else I’ve seen recently

The film is written for the screen and directed by Kelly Freman Craig, and Margaret is played by Abby Ryder Fortson, who would have to carry the day, and does, incandescently. She portrays Margaret’s inner dilemmas with subtlety and grace in a way that is never child actory and, most importantly, always rings true. At the outset, Margaret is horrified to discover that her parents, Barbara (Rachel McAdams, also terrific) and Herb (Bennie Safdie, not given much to do) are upping the family from New York to the New Jersey suburbs. ‘Please don’t let New Jersey be horrible,’ Margaret implores God. She doesn’t want to leave her friends behind or her Jewish grandmother, Sylvia (a restrained and moving performance from Kathy Bates, who could have gone full caricature). Herb is Jewish, Barbara is Christian, and they are bringing Margaret up with no religion so that she can decide for herself who her God is, if she decides that God exists.

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