Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

Posted on April 27, 2023 at 5:35 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Family stress
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, tension over religious differences
Date Released to Theaters: April 28, 2023

Copyright Lionsgate 2023
Judy Blume revolutionized what we now call YA literature with good stories and appealing characters. Most important, though, was she told the truth, simply and openly, about subjects adults too often make it hard for kids to ask about. It is not just that kids worry about the challenges of puberty, for example. The tougher part is the feeling that they’re the only ones, that everyone else seems to have got some key to it all that they’ve missed. One of Blume’s most popular books is Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It was considered revolutionary at the time — and still the subject of book bans today — for its candid depiction of puberty, menstruation, the crushing middle school pressure to fit in, and perhaps even more shocking, questioning whether which religion, if any, she wanted to follow.

Blume resisted allowing her books to be adapted for film for a long time. But now, as a documentary about Blume herself is released, the 85-year-old author has authorized this film (she is also a producer), and it is the most loving, authentic adaptation imaginable, utterly true to the story, tone, and messages of the 1970 novel.

Wisely, they kept the 1970 setting. Today, the girls would get some information (and a lot of misinformation) from the internet and from books by Blume and others who followed her. But in 1970, all they had was rumors and someone’s dad’s Playboy.

The heroine of the title is 11 as the movie starts, and like pre-puberty characters in popular fiction over the years, from Pollyanna to Alice to Dorothy to Pippi Longstocking, she is happy and confident. But like almost all going-on-twelve year olds, she is starting to feel unsure of herself, looks to her peers instead of her parents to set the rules, and tries to blend in with those around her. This is amplified by having to get used to a new school where she does not know anyone. Her new neighbor, Nancy (Elle Graham) introduces herself and invites Margaret over to run under the sprinkler. Nancy is bossy, and Margaret finds that reassuring. When Nancy tells her she must not wear socks on the first day of school, she obeys, even though she gets blisters, as her mother warned her. When Nancy tells her she has to wear a bra, Margaret insists on getting one.

Margaret adores her grandmother, Sylvia, played with brio by Kathy Bates. Today we might call her “extra” or “no filters.” Back then, they probably called her impulsive, brassy, and outspoken. They both worry about missing each other when the family moves, and Margaret loves going into the city all by herself to visit Sylvia. They have a lot of fun together.

This story does not take the usual short-cuts in movies about children and pre-teens, with parents who have to be taught by their kids about what is going on and what they need. Margaret has good parents who love each other and love her. They are perceptive and supportive. Margaret’s father Herb (Benny Sadie) was raised Jewish. Her mother Barbara (Rachel McAdams) was raised by devout Christians and is estranged from her parents because they did not want her to marry a Jew). Herb and Barbara chose to raise Margaret without religion, and that has made her feel like an outsider. She tells her teacher she hates religious holidays because her family does not observe them. So she decides her year-long research project should be about religion. She goes to church with a friend and asks Syliva to take her to services at a synagogue. When Barbara’s parents come for a visit and try to impose their religion, Barbara tells them to leave. This is the most superficial and unsatisfying part of the book and the movie. Margaret learns nothing about religion beyond tribalism and it is hard to imagine she would get a passing grade on her paper.

The film is much better in dealing with the social pressures and the worries about the changes of puberty. It is a very rare film that is honest, in a very low-key way, about the stirrings of female desire. In a very sweet moment, Margaret’s parents exchange knowing glances, then ask her if she’d like to be the one to pay the boy mowing the lawn. She would. A memorable theme from the book and movie is the way a girl who matured early (Margaret at first thinks she is a teacher) is othered and insulted. While Margaret is impatient and worried about when she will develop breasts and menstruate, she learns that a girl who developed early is just as worried and lonely. Her growing sense of herself and the possibilities before her is what has made the book a foundational text for half a century and is lovingly portrayed in this adaptation.

Parents should know that this movie deals frankly with puberty and menstruation. There is also family strife over religion.

Family discussion: Why does Margaret want to do what Nancy tells her? How has middle school changed since this book was written? Why do some communities want to remove this book from the library?

If you like this, try: the book by Judy Blume

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Trailer: The Great Gilly Hopkins

Posted on August 17, 2016 at 8:00 am

The classic Katherine Paterson novel, The Great Gilly Hopkins, the story of an angry foster child who dreams of being reunited with her mother, is now a movie starring Oscar-winner Kathy Bates as a kind-hearted foster mother.

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Revolutionary Road

Posted on June 2, 2009 at 8:08 am

It may be, as Thoreau said, that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation,” but in the movies, desperation is much more likely to be loud. “Revolutionary Road” is another movie about unhappiness, phoniness, and corrosive dysfunction behind the manicured lawns of suburbia story from Sam Mendes of American Beauty. This time, it is set just after WWII, based on the novel by Richard Yates. It is the story of Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet), a couple who are devastated to find themselves unable to escape the stultification of conventional middle class lives and who respond by devastating each other.

There is a moment for each of us, when we begin to see outside everything we have known and start to think of something different for ourselves, confident that we can avoid the mistakes of our parents and their generation. And then there is another moment when we learn that it is not that easy. This notion of exceptionalism, whether at the personal or national level, is the question these characters must face.

And it is that issue that gives this film its power. Yes, it is beautifully observed detail, rich images, and brilliant, fearless performances and yes, it has a scathing portrayal of the foul rot beneath the superficial suburban prettiness, with only a madman who can tell the truth. But all of that has been done before and these stories themselves tend to risk an aura of smug, we’re-in-on-the-real-story superiority that is as artificial as the lives it is dissecting. What makes this story transcend its setting is the resonance it has with the notion of America’s own sense of its exceptionalism in the world and in history.

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Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys

Posted on September 18, 2008 at 3:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material, sexual references and brief violence.
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: A couple of hard punches
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 12, 2008

Tyler Perry’s latest film is more traditional and with a more consistent tone than his “Medea” movies, but it has his trademark trio: sincerity, spirituality, and story. And if he passes on that other “s” — subtlety, that’s all right. Reminiscent of the classic Hollywood melodramas filled with financial, romantic, and family anguish, this is the story of two families, one white and wealthy, one black and poor, and the many ways they interact — in business, in friendship, in love, and in battle.

Both families are headed by strong, determined single mothers. Charlotte (Kathy Bates) is the matriarch of the wealthy Cartwright family and holds the controlling shares in its construction business. Her closest friend is Alice (Alfre Woodard), the owner of a run-down diner who is always willing to give a free meal and clean clothes to someone who needs help. Charlotte’s son William (Cole Hauser) wants to take over the family business, with or without his mother’s approval. Alice has one daughter Pam (Taraji P. Henson) who works in the diner and another one (Sanaa Lathan as Andrea) who has a degree in finance and a lot of ambition. She works directly with William and both sisters’ husbands are construction workers for Cartwright with dreams of starting a firm of their own.

Writer/director/star Perry (he plays only one role this time, Pam’s husband) takes on big themes and big drama: sex, love, death, betrayal, and corporate takeovers, but all presented with heart and sincerity and a firm and genuinely inspiring devotion to God and to doing for others. It is sheer pleasure to watch Bates and Woodward take on these roles. On a road trip (“Like Oprah and Gayle!”) or in a boardroom, tucking bills in the thong of a male stripper, confronting heartbreak, counting blessings, they keep us watching and caring.

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