On Friday, Lionsgate released “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret,” bringing the classic Judy Blume young adult novel to the big screen for the first time. Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig (“The Edge of Seventeen”), the film centers on 11-year-old Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) adjusting to life in a new town with guidance from her mother Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and grandmother, Syliva (Kathy Bates).
Having grown up inspired by the novel, Fremon Craig decided to seek out Blume’s permission for a feature film, a pretty tall order considering the author had rejected earlier invitations.
“When I wrote to Judy, I told myself not to get my hopes up that she’d ever actually read the letter, let alone reply,” Fremon Craig said. “Still, I had to convey what her work means to me — how much her writing buoyed me through childhood and adolescence, that she was the person who made me fall in love with reading, and eventually, writing. I told her that while I was making ‘The Edge of Seventeen,’ she felt like a North Star. And I told her that I had just re-read ‘Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret’ and desperately wanted to adapt it for the screen, because I felt it would make a truly beautiful film. The next day, when I saw the name ‘Judy Blume’ in my inbox, I was so stunned I nearly passed out. In her reply, which I read about 600 times and plan to have framed, she was everything I hoped she’d be when I was 12 years old, staring at her photo on the book jacket: warm, kind, funny, brilliant.”
In addition to directing, Fremon Craig put her own mark on the material by expanding Barbara’s story, being caught between her Christian upbringing, and marrying a Jewish man. The clash of ideologies provides a momentary crisis of faith for the young protagonist, even as she dives into the subject for a research paper at school.
“I like the religion angle, because at that age is when I also started to believe in something bigger than myself,” she said.
Oscar-winning actress Bates added that, “Margaret has the courage to investigate religion. She discovers its prejudice and cruelty within her own family when she learns from her mother that when Barb fell in love with Herb, Barb’s Christian parents disowned her for marrying a Jewish man. Margaret discovers the pain and the humiliation and the anguish that her mother went through.”
Throughout the film, as the title suggests, Margaret prays. At first, she says to God, “I’ve heard a lot of great things about you.” She frequently asks Him for help in growing up and fitting in, especially in relation to how her body is developing. But when the families fall out over their religious views, she stops and seemingly loses her faith. But as the story progresses, she calls out to God again.
“It’s beautiful how she comes back to God in the end,” Fremon Craig said. “She is on a journey. And she doesn’t find her faith in corporate worship but in those quiet alone times.”
“Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret,” directed by Kelly Fremon Craig and starring Rachel McAdams, Abby Ryder Fortson, Elle Graham, Benny Safdie, Echo Kallum and Kathy Bates, is currently in theaters.