“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” blooms on the big screen


Dana Hawley/Courtesy Lionsgate

Sylvia Simon, played by Kathy Bates (left), shares a laugh with Abby Ryder Fortson as her granddaughter, Margaret, in “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”

Grace Tucceri, Franklin High School

Page-to-screen movies rarely make the mark. Take, for example, the lifeless 2014 “The Giver” adaptation, and deeply flawed “Molly Moon” direct-to-DVD film from 2015. However, every so often, there comes a movie that exceeds its source material in almost every aspect. Very few movies fall under this limited category, such as Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Outsiders.” However, these English class staples better watch out for the new girl.

Enter “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” a near perfect visual representation of the timeless 1970 novel by Judy Blume.

Director Kelly Fremon Craig masterfully translates a legendary book published more than 50 years ago to a modern audience without losing its grooviness.

“Margaret” follows the titular character as she and her parents move from the hustle and bustle life in New York City to suburban New Jersey shortly before sixth grade begins. While adjusting to the unfamiliar setting, Margaret begins questioning religion due in part to an in depth research paper assignment from her teacher. After all, she does not associate with a specific faith like her peers since she has a Christian mother and Jewish father.

And then there is the whole “puberty” thing.

Bras and boys are all the rage now for Margaret and her three new friends: Nancy Wheeler, Gretchen Potter, and Janie Loomis. Together, they form an exclusive club devoted to their changing bodies in which they dub themselves the “Pre-Teen Sensations,” or “PTSs” for short. And yes, the foursome do perform the iconic “We must, we must, we must increase our bust” chant and routine so they can, well, further develop their features.

The stellar cast performances ultimately elevate the movie’s quality. Abby Ryder Fortson authentically captures Margaret’s wit and shows off her acting chops that have blossomed since she first appeared in 2015’s “Ant-Man” as a young Cassie Lang. Fortson shines brightest when delivering her monologues to “God” and sharing the screen with her mother, played by Rachel McAdams. The “Mean Girls” and “Doctor Strange” star does a phenomenal job conveying emotion during the tense climax without appearing over the top. Plus, how can a movie with the legendary Kathy Bates as a meddlesome grandmother who wears an eye mask to bed be mediocre?

From left, Abby Ryder Fortson (Margaret), Amari Price (Janie), Elle Graham (Nancy), and Katherine Kupferer (Gretchen) celebrate the highs — and lows — of sixth grade together in “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” (Dana Hawley/Courtesy Lionsgate)

The film’s MVP does not receive star billing, though. Elle Graham, who portrays de-facto PTS leader Nancy, commands the screen at all times when present. One notable moment where she stands out occurs during a PTS meeting where she flaunts about being more grown up than the other girls. Graham not only excels at coming off snooty, for she too stands out during a vulnerable bathroom scene later on as well. 

While the acting excels throughout the entire 1:51 runtime, the script does feel rushed in a few spots, particularly toward the end. The subplot involving early bloomer Laura Danker (an underutilized, but talented Isol Young) lacks a clear resolution, but does not detract from the movie as a whole.

All in all, “Margaret” offers a pleasant viewing experience filled with plenty of heart. Director Kelly Fremon Craig masterfully translates a legendary book published more than 50 years ago to a modern audience without losing its grooviness. And even though the plot mainly follows pre-teens, both the young and old will enjoy the film since lighthearted coming-of-age tales never go out of style. 

— April 28, 2023–