If we learned anything from the Barbie movie’s astounding billion dollar take in two weeks, it might be that movies made by women might just be the next big thing; when the idea of making more female-centric films surfaced a few years back, few would have anticipated that the biggest box office success of 2023 would be the result. What was once termed (by men) a ‘woman’s picture’ is a genre which has largely moved to streaming, but highly-influential cinema should still be a prime target for women’s narratives. Taken from a beloved novel by Judy Blume, Kelly Fremon Craig’s light-hearted, tender and thoughtful drama arrives on home-entertainment some time after a moderately successful US release, but it’s the kind of one-off, highly individual film that’s likely to be embraced by audiences bored with the stereotyped male view found in most ancient superhero IP.
As some critic’s dismissive reviews of Pixar’s Turning Red proved, not quite everyone is ready to embrace a film that deals with issues to do with periods and menstruation, but Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret delivers a ground-breaking bit of cinema by doubling down on one girl’s personal growth. We’re back in sunny 1970, and Abby Ryder Fortson plays Margaret, a young girl decanted from New York City to New Jersey when her family plan a flitting; she’s not happy about the move, and at eleven years old, finding forever friends at a new school isn’t easy. While her pals are celebrating their growing brassieres, busts and boasting about their first periods, Margaret starts an intense conversation with her God about her anxieties; with a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, religion is a point of tension at home, and Margaret finds that growing up in public isn’t easy…
Craig’s film isn’t a front-line dispatch from a feminist war, but a well-crafted and immaculately cast studio film that goes to rarely-visited yet defiantly everyday narrative places and comes back with fresh rewards in terms of comedy and drama. Rachel McAdams and Bennie Safdie both excel as Margaret’s parents, and there’s an awards-worthy support from Kathy Bates as her full-on grandmother, who has plenty to say about Margaret’s various predicaments. A quick look down the credits also indicated the depth of the professionalism here; Hans Zimmer provides the score, and James L Brooks (Terms of Endearment) is a credited producer for his Gracie Films. And while the package is top-notch, the contribution of Fortson is key; she’s the glue that holds this whole involving story together, it’s a role that could easy seem arch or cloying, and she does a great job of making Margaret feel real.
Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. came out a little too early in cinemas to cash-in on 2023 sudden Greta-Gerwig–inspired kick-back against bland, male-fantasy studio fare, but that won’t stop this film being a sizable home-entertainment and streaming hit. It’s sensitive to women’s issues, makes a point of avoiding sexualizing girls and teens, and the open consideration of spiritual development makes it suitable for viewers of most religious faiths. It’s a fun, original movie that carefully translates the spirit of Judy Blume’s writing to the big screen, and that’s a good thing; there’s plenty of female creatives who deserve to be heard, and what made Blume prized on the page is adeptly rendered on the screen here.
Lionsgate UK presents Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. on Blu-ray and DVD from 7 August 2023, and on streaming. Thanks to Lionsgate for access to this title.