Are You There God? It’s An Endearing Exploration of the Ups and Downs of Youth

5 out of 5 stars (a classic)

I love every single thing about Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret.  Based on the critically acclaimed book, this film captured the exact feelings I remember having in my own youth: The fear of change, desire to grow alongside my peers, uncertainty about my own religious beliefs, and the strength of both familial relationships and friendships.  It’s well-acted, flawlessly written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, and gives most of its characters welcome depth and quiet moments to breathe.  It’s a shining new classic that I’m happy is out there to be discovered.

11-year-old Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson, the first 2 Ant-Man films) has her life turned upside down when her parents, people-pleasing  ex-Christian Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and laid-back Jewish Herb (Benny Safdie) announce they’re moving from New York to the New Jersey suburbs, sadly putting a distance between Margaret and her loving grandmother Sylvia (Kathy Bates).  Once moved, Margaret befriends the confident Nancy Wheeler (Elle Graham), Gretchen Potter (Katherine Mallen-Kupferer) and Janie Loomis (Amari Alexis Price).  As Margaret experiences the ups and downs of adolescence, she also struggles to determine her religious status, asking God for help as she navigates the day-to-day craziness that is teenage existence.

There is a shortage of perfect movies in this world, but Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret is one of them.  Abby Ryder Fortson brings equal amounts of youthful innocence and vulnerability in the title role and the script makes her and the entire cast feel like authentic human beings each going through their own trials and tribulations. Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig sets an overall light tone, but ensures every dramatic beat resonates and smartly lets small character moments breathe.  There are also plenty of moments of levity and joy to be found here (Kathy Bates never disappoints and the scenes of the girls’ secret club in Nancy’s room are wonderful).  The movie also takes a stab at exploring the frustrations of religion in the mind of a youth and makes sure we understand Margaret’s feelings as an adolescent just as much as her parents’.

Above all else, Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret stands out for showcasing the feeling of awkwardness around the opposite sex, uncertainty of one’s changing body, and desire to fit in amongst one’s peers in a  universal way that I think anyone could resonate with.  This is that rare movie that I have no problems with whatsoever and recommend everyone go out and see.  I cried happy tears twice watching this and the ladies in my audience were doing the same.  Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret is an endearing, emotional coming-of-age tale that will melt your heart.  Go out and see it in a theater as soon as possible.  You won’t regret it.

Rated PG-13 for Thematic material Involving Sexual Education and Some Suggestive Material

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