It’s tricky to explain the importance of Judy Blume’s preteen cornerstone Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret to anyone who hasn’t had a period or a bra fitting. Trust Kelly Fremon Craig, the writer-director of The Edge of Seventeen, the best teen movie of the past decade, to translate Blume’s seminal novel into a funny, exhilarating coming-of-age movie that will charm all genders.
The titular heroine, played by the disarming newcomer Abby Ryder Fortson, is the only child of a lapsed Christian mother and a Jewish father. Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and Herb (Benny Safdie) have consequently raised Margaret without a religion, a space she fills with imagination. “I’ve heard great things about you,” runs an early attempt to pray.
It’s all happening at once for Margaret. Her family has moved from Manhattan to New Jersey, placing her miles from her beloved grandmother (Kathy Bates) and next door to Nancy (Elle Graham), the precocious same-aged neighbour who inducts Margaret into a pre-adolescent girl gang. Together they compile crush lists, wait impatiently for menstruation, and work towards better bra sizes with ritualised exercises.
Encouraged by her caring teacher, Margaret embarks on something like a spiritual journey, asking about her estranged maternal parents and accompanying her delighted Jewish grandmother to temple.
Some of Margaret’s edges are buffed out by the heartfelt screenplay, including a viewing of a sex-education film that, in Blume’s exquisitely judged novel, she dismisses as “one big commercial”. Still, it’s impossible to argue with Fremon Craig’s winning screenplay, with its carefully calibrated depictions of peer pressure, intergenerational shifts and little white lies. Margaret’s world, accordingly, is simultaneously fun and deadly serious.
Hormonal dramas are rendered in innocent 1970s exchanges and an occasional glimpse of armpit hair. Margaret’s doting parents, enlivened by McAdams and Safdie’s performances, are as endearingly muddled as their near-teen charge.
Tim Ives’s sunny cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s equally bright score ensure that Margaret’s relocation prayer (“Please don’t let New Jersey be too horrible”) is answered.
An instant, all-ages classic.