Release Date – 19th May 2023, Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 46 minutes, Director – Kelly Fremon Craig
After moving from the city to the suburbs 11-year-old Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) tries to work out who she really is, whilst trying her best to grow up as fast as possible in the wake of adolescence.
“It gets tiring trying so hard all the time, doesn’t it?” Barbara (Rachel McAdams) partially asks herself as she cuddle up to her daughter after a particularly stressful set of events. “Yeah” 11-year-old Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) sighs, exhausted from trying to grow up as fast as possible. While all her friends seem to have already had their first period and the exercises she tries to go up a bra size (“I must, I must, I must increase my bust!” she chants) don’t work she’s also trying to work out just who she is. Since moving from New York City to the New Jersey suburbs everything has changed, particularly as she’s on the verge of adolescence.
Director Kelly Fremon Craig’s capturing of the American suburbs gets across the everyday nature of the story at hand. By keeping the events in 1970 (the year Judy Blume’s novel of the same name, on which the film is based, was published) a timelessness – referenced in much of the advertising – is established to the events and feelings brought up throughout. Much of this extends a hand to the audience, old and young (particularly those of Margaret’s age), and brings them in to the various tales which are being told over the course of the year the film covers.
The humour of some of the ideas presented, such as the ways in which Margaret and her friends seem to be in a rush to grow up or the awkwardness of learning about the changing body via a presentation at school, is effectively contrasted with the dramas on display. From the different reactions to first periods to rumours about the girl at school (Isol Young) who started to go through everything much earlier than everyone else. Meanwhile, Barbara worries about making her house look as perfect as possible, the living room goes without any chairs or a sofa for months as she tries to find the right one, while she begins to miss the art which she focused on teaching classes before moving. Yet, perhaps the most emotional point for her is the relationship she has with her parents – who she hasn’t spoken to since they disapproved of her marrying a Jewish man (Benny Safdie). It’s a strand which, helped by the natural subtleties of McAdams’ wonderfully understated performance, sticks the landing every time it’s brought up.
McAdams relationship with Fortson is a frequently touching one, particularly when it comes to the quiet mum-daughter bonding scenes, especially towards the end of the film. There’s a believable bond between the pair which contrasts with the louder, still caring, relationship Margaret has with her grandmother (Kathy Bates) who adores her granddaughter, showing her off when they go to Temple – not knowing that Margaret is trying to work out whether she’s Jewish or Christian. There’s a tenderness to such relationships, especially mum and daughter, marking a clear difference to those which are present at school and elsewhere in Margaret’s life. It’s all part of the nature of growing up which Craig’s film so effectively captures with tones of humour and, most importantly, understanding.
While acknowledging humour and a sense of awkwardness Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is a clearly tender and thoughtful depiction of the everyday trials of growing up from the female perspective. Helped by great performances from Fortson and McAdams it welcomes you in for a rather unique piece of work.