It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read a Judy Blume book, but Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, was one of my favorites growing up. In fact, I loved Blume’s books, in general. They tackle difficult issues that tweens (and sometimes teens, too) are dealing with as they grow up.
In Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Margaret Simon is twelve years old when she comes home from summer camp and learns that her family is moving from New York City to the suburbs of New Jersey. This news is pretty jarring for her; she’s convinced her life is now over. So, for the first time, she talks to God, praying for a smooth transition. Except, Margaret was raised by interfaith parents–parents who chose an upbringing for her that is without religion, due to their own experiences.
One thing the viewer learns while watching the film is that Margaret’s upbringing has so much to do with how her parents were affected by religion. Margaret’s father is Jewish, and her mother is Christian. After choosing to unite, they left religion behind because of their own family’s viewpoint that interfaith families can’t exist. This idea that faith trickles down becomes generational–so in their own way, Margaret’s parents were trying to do her a favor by letting her decide what her religion would be (if she wanted one) when she was older).
Yet, when Margaret starts her new school in New Jersey and begins making connections, she’s quickly drawn into the world of religion. Her new teacher encourages her to explore new faiths and investigate the tumultuous relationship between her mother and her parents–which opens up a whole new set of challenges for Margaret.
While she’s exploring different faiths, she’s also going through very typical middle school experiences: puberty, first crushes, friendship struggles. I think the movie did an excellent job highlighting these challenges and making them realistic.
One thing that I really enjoyed about this film was the idea that she never really chose a denomination in the end–and that was okay. Betsy Reed from the Guardian disagreed in her review: “But what about God, the absent character to whom Margaret occasionally addresses her concerns in private, and whose existence she never doubts for a moment? Does she get an answer?” But I think that’s the point…faith in itself, whether it’s related to religion or not, is entirely dependent on believing in yourself. There IS no one answer, from God or anyone else–and this is what Margaret has to figure out.
A year passed, and her growth was evident through her middle school experiences (as aforementioned), but despite going to many different church services and learning about different faiths, Margaret felt confident in her decision to remain non-denominational for the time being. She ended the year feeling secure in her decision, understanding her parent’s frustration with religion in relationships and family, and how it affects certain aspects of life.
I love how this message will likely come across to younger viewers–We don’t need to define a secular area of our life (or any area of our life, truthfully) to be happy or secure. It’s up to us, as our own person, to decide how we want our experiences to shape us, regardless of other influences in our lives. Margaret’s ability to recognize this, soothes her anxiety and ultimately, shows her maturity throughout the year.
Another aspect of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, that I really enjoyed takes us back to that generational aspect I mentioned earlier. While the book is dedicated mostly towards Margaret’s journey, the film really explores her mother, Barbara’s experiences with religion and growing up, as well. I loved Rachel McAdam’s character. She’s a thoughtful mom, that’s trying to find her own way, at the same time that Margaret is. On one hand, she feels like she needs to be the PTA mom, making meals for her family, and taking care of the home–and yet, she also feels drawn to paint. She’s an excellent example of a realistic parent, with flawed traits and I loved that the filmmakers spent extra time making her character complex.
And then, beyond Barbara, there’s also Silvia, who is Herb’s mom (Margaret’s dad). Silvia is also trying to find her way–showing younger viewers that no matter how old you are, it’s okay to still be finding your way. In the film, Silvia is still living in New York City, and she’s lonely after her family moves to New Jersey without her. Retired, she struggles to fill her days, and she misses her granddaughter. By the end of the film, she does meet someone who romantically fills that void of companionship that she’s looking for, and I enjoyed that the writers chose this route for Silvia. The relationship felt very casual in a lot of ways, and like Barbara’s choice to not be a housewife, and Margaret’s choice to not be a part of the ‘popular girls,’ the decisions these women made throughout the film to fulfill their own needs showcased strength that I think will really inspire filmgoers.
So, the real question is… Did this film do the book justice?
While it’s been a while since I’ve read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, I do think that it took the themes of the book and turned it from a juvenile read into a film that targets a wider range of viewers. I liked that the screenwriters added in the generational aspects to strengthen the plot, and I really enjoyed the way that Margaret’s own challenges add a multidimensional density to the religion-based storyline viewers are expecting.
I do think that this film did the book justice, and then some. I enjoyed it, and I recommend picking it up to watch if you haven’t already.
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