Monday, May 20, 2024

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.

The carefree dog days of a summer camp in New Hampshire turn to the hustle and bustle of 1970s New York City before shifting to a Norman Rockwell-esque suburban setting in Kelly Fremon Craig’s delightful adaptation of the historical novel of Judy, Blume for Young People “Are you God? Me, Margaret.”

“Please don’t let New Jersey be too terrible,” Margaret Simon (a wonderful Abby Ryder Fortson) whispers to God as her family packs up the car and drives to suburban New Jersey, the Big Apple’s skyscrapers and sidewalks. filled with giving people. the road to the road. to large supermarket parking lots, yard sales, and children running through sprinklers.

Almost as soon as they move into their spacious new home, Margaret is invited by her new neighbor Nancy (Elle Graham, live) to join her for a run through the same dreamy sprinklers, initiating her thus . the new suburban lifestyle. Margaret is shocked and fascinated by Nancy’s intense energy. She is overjoyed when Nancy asks her to join her secret club, along with fellow 6th graders Gretchen (Katherine Mallen Kupferer) and Janie (Amari Price). Through these friendships, Nancy will learn hard lessons about peer pressure, the pain of lies, and the power of being true to yourself.

When the girls’ fantasies are interrupted by the actions of Nancy’s brother Evan (Landon S. Baxter) and his friend Moose (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong), the camera cuts to Margaret’s POV as she inspects Moose’s hair in armpit, a moment that had me thinking of Karen Maine’s equally wonderful coming-of-age film Yes, God, Yes. This is Margaret’s first blush and, as she holds her breath, we know her brain will be fixated on Moose for the rest of the movie, though it might take her that long to do something about him.

In fact, all the girls in the club are starting to obsess over the boys. Mainly Philip Leroy (Zackary Brooks), a handsome guy who is already being very stupid, although the girls are not yet experienced enough to realize it. At school and at their club meetings, the girls gossip about the other students, especially Laura Danker (Isol Young), whose already maturing body is leading to adolescence. As they wait to see who will get their period first, they try to speed up the puberty process by working out in bras and chanting “I must, must, must grow my bust”. Craig films these scenes with such endearing compassion for the girls, never painting them as stupid, even when they are the dumbest. But also never being ashamed of how casually cruel – under the guise of honesty – they can be.

But Margaret’s journey into adulthood is not simply biological. After writing that she doesn’t like “religious holidays” in a deal-with-me letter, her teacher assigns Margaret to research religion for a year-long class assignment. Margaret has no religion, as her parents Barbara (Rachel McAdams, luminous) and Herb (Benny Safdie) want her to choose her own when she grows up, much to the chagrin of Sylvia, Herb’s mother (Kathy Bates, delightful).

This is where the film departs the most from the source material. While in Blume’s book Margaret tells her friends why she has no religion, in the film she is unsure and asks her mother. In a completely shocking sequence, Barbara explains to her daughter that as “devout Christians” her parents did not want a Jewish groom, so if she married Herb, she would no longer be their daughter.

By giving this speech to Barbara, Craig teases out on a much larger scale the topic of how parents’ choices can affect their children long into adulthood. Although somewhat present in Blume’s writing, the book’s focus is so laser-directed on Margaret’s experience that her parents are almost a blank canvas. Yet through Craig’s adaptation, Barbara becomes as fleshed out as Margaret herself.

Details from the book, such as how Barbara likes to paint, are writ large, with what she has now left behind a career as an art teacher in this suburban movement. As Margaret adjusts to life at a new school, so does Barbara. Less fulfilled with the burden of buying a new living room set for their home or joining a million PTA committees than she thought she would be, Barbara surrounds herself with her paintings, willing to find an artistic inspiration in this new life.

In the hands of McAdams, one of the most emotionally charged performers of her generation, Barbara becomes more than just a stereotypical overworked mother. Her warmth radiates throughout the film, as she must be both a safe harbor for Margaret’s ever-changing moods and a vessel on her difficult journey to self-actualization. McAdams is so captivating in this role that she almost overpowers Margaret’s story, and in doing so illuminates a flaw in the film.

In creating a larger part for Barbara, Craig’s film is not only a coming-of-age film, but also a deeper examination of the sacrifices, traumas and security women can find in the process of building families. Theirs. However, whether due to uneven scripting or uneven editing, her inner journey is not as integrated with Margaret’s as it could be. Although Barbara keeps many of her inner struggles to herself, the film still left me wanting to know how Margaret felt about Barbara’s attempt to reconcile with her parents, or how Barbara felt about her impending puberty. to Margaret.

Despite this slight hiccup, Craig’s take on Blume’s classic is just as exciting as her debut The Edge of Seventeen. Her deep respect for the flaws of girlhood and her emotionally intelligent exploration of prickly family dynamics make her a perfect fit for the material and elevates “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” far above most modern films that attempt to tackle similar material.

Fortson is fantastic as the iconic Margaret, channeling her conflicted moods with anger. Like the other girls, their friend’s chemistry is reminiscent of that created by the cast of the 1995 classic Now and Then. But ultimately, this movie belongs to McAdams, whose incandescent performance should be remembered not just when the year-end lists start rolling in, but as perhaps her most accomplished performance to date.

Available in theaters April 28.

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