Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret: Ditto

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. movie poster

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is one of the most awkward films I have ever watched.

And it was exactly as it should be.

After all, few things are more awkward than the transition many girls face as they enter the season of when boys, bras, and changing bodies take center stage in their lives.

Before we go into the film itself, I have to disclose that this book was one of the most formative books that I read in middle school in the 90s, and I know I’m not the only one to make such a claim. While facing some of the biggest changes and scariest topics that I could think of at that age, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret “got me.” Margaret Simon was me. I had to make new friends as the old moved on, I had to get used to the restricting feeling of a bra (and honestly, did any of us ever get used to it?), I had to decipher new feelings when I saw a cute boy… and I had to find my own expression of religion. Margaret’s life reflected my own, and she gave me the words and opportunity to work it all out.

Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret Simon, Amari Price as Janie Loomis, Elle Graham as Nancy Wheeler, and Katherine Kupferer as Gretchen Potter in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Photo Credit: Dana Hawley

Set in the 70s, Margaret Simon (played by Abby Ryder Fortson, who absolutely embodies Margaret) leaves behind her New York home and doting grandmother Sylvia (Kathy Bates) for the suburban life in New Jersey. Her artsy mom Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and newly-promoted dad Herb (Benny Safdie) assure her that she will settle in and all will be well, but Margaret isn’t as sure. Quickly befriended by Nancy Wheeler (Elle Graham), Margaret is whisked into a world that she may not be quite ready for as the focus of her newfound friends is on boys they like, “increasing their bust,” and periods. Margaret becomes a girl between two worlds – between childhood and womanhood – which is why she is such an iconic character.

Amid everything else, she worries about not having a religion. Her Catholic mom and Jewish dad have decided that she can choose when she’s ready, so she simultaneously embarks on a journey to find out what it’s all about. And it’s this spiritual journey that helped inspire Screenwriter Kelly Fremon Craig to write this story for the screen. In her interview, Craig shared, “When I reread the book as an adult, I was so moved by her spiritual journey. I thought it was so simple and profound. And I just loved that it was this time in her life when everything is changing, the ground is shifting under feet, that she starts to reach out for something greater…to help her know she’s going to be ok.”

Kathy Bates as Sylvia Simon and Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret Simon in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Photo Credit: Dana Hawley

It’s beyond unfortunate that many Judy Blume books are being banned for “inappropriate content,” because Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is universal in many ways. I had no idea it was set in the 70s because Margaret could have been me in the 90s. When we are going through such an awkward change, books and films become means through which we can navigate life and we see ourselves in the characters and their journeys. To know that books like these are being censored when they are reflections of what young girls are actually experiencing is to mourn the loss of formative moments. And so I hope that this movie gets the attention it so richly deserves. Its faithful portrayal of a timeless book is a testament to the writing, the acting, and the understanding that growing up is often messy and uncomfortable.

This film (and its source material) should be celebrated. Yes, it’s awkward but it’s because we were too. Yes, the subject matter may be uncomfortable but it’s because we often didn’t know how or to whom to talk about it.

Yes, Margaret, we asked the same questions. And sometimes we still do.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. opens in theaters on April 28th.

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