Film directed and written by Kelly Fremon Craig and adapted from Judy Blume’s homonymous work released in 1970, which had been widely sought after by Hollywood studios since its publication. The author had never shown interest in selling the rights, initially even stating that she couldn’t imagine seeing her book on the big screen. However, after a conversation with James L. Brooks and considering the Craig’s work on “The Edge of Seventeen,” she was convinced that allowing the adaptation would be the best thing to do.
This film covers a wide range of subjects: culture, self-discovery, and in a way, it’s also a story about adolescence, the importance of respect, and dealing with different perspectives on the world, especially when it comes to religion. It explores things that may seem inexplicable due to actions taken from a sense of familial detachment but start to make sense when approached from a closer perspective.
I confess that I haven’t read the book, but I’ve talked to some people who are familiar with it since it is quite popular in the United States. They assure me that this is a rare case where the adaptation becomes more relevant than the original work. The author herself has stated that she was surprised and that the film is better than her own book.
In my opinion, this film features Rachel McAdams’ best performance of her career, which is crucial in providing solid support for another vital performance by the young actress Abby Ryder Fortson.
The main strength of the film is its commitment to its 1970s setting. It’s a story that says a lot about that period, which is well utilized through makeup, hairstyles, set designs, and overall atmosphere. However, its main differentiating factor is its ability to spark a significant symbolic discussion, even about taboo subjects, which are treated differently today. It may touch upon sensitive topics that a family may not want to address with a teenager, but there are friends and the answers are practically a Google search away.
The period reconstruction is truly captivating, and this production has achieved the great feat of naturally establishing connections of interest, not only through the charisma of the protagonist but also through a journey where I’m certain many of the questions raised about growth, life, and physical changes, in different contexts, end up revealing a common element in everyone’s search for quick answers to things that may take time to make sense or at least find ample space for.
Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) is just 11 going on 12 when her family moves from New York City to Farbrook, New Jersey. Margaret’s mother (Rachel McAdams) is Christian and her father (Benny Safdie) is Jewish. Margaret has been raised without an affiliation to either faith, and does not practice an organized religion, although she frequently prays to God in her own words, beginning by saying, “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.” She is beginning to feel uncomfortable with her lack of a religious affiliation. For a school assignment, she chooses to study people’s religious beliefs, hoping to resolve the question of her own religion in the process. Part of her study involves attending different places of worship to better understand religious practice and also to see if one of them might be right for her. She enjoys spending time with her Jewish paternal grandmother, Sylvia Simon (Kathy Bates) who loves her as she is, and hopes Margaret will embrace Judaism after taking her to her synagogue for Rosh Hashanah services.
I have to emphasize how well Rachel McAdams performs in this film. She portrays a complex and challenging situation, appearing busy and overwhelmed, and it is through her that the young girl finds a reference point—the safe harbor in her mother’s embrace.
Similarly, Margaret establishes a group of friends who share the same curiosities and want to discuss the same topics, which also provides her with a certain relief. Another important figure is Margaret’s grandmother, played by Kathy Bates. Margaret holds great affection for her and is very grateful. Moving to another city would be a traumatic event due to the distance and lack of contact.
Now, any studio could make an adaptation of this same story set in the present day, adding conveniences like cell phones, instant communication, and getting answers through the internet, for example. However, by isolating it in the 1970s, maintaining the same topics as the book, according to those who are familiar with it, it’s not just about adapting the text but bringing it to life and making all the questions important.
And that brings us to the main factor, which is religion. Margaret opens up a channel of communication with God, which is skillfully used in the narrative as an interlocutor for her expressions and the progression of her doubts, leading to funny or sensitive situations.
Despite the central point of interest being to explore different cultures, perspectives, and understand various religions, even for an 11-year-old, I believe that all the considerations made are extremely limited. They are simplified, even for a school project.
When the channel of communication is opened—”Are you there, God?”—it is also for her self-discovery and to help her find her own views. There are three different generations, each with opinions on vastly different societies, but without imposing what is right or wrong. Instead, the audience is led to try and decipher what Margaret is thinking.
It’s not new for director Kelly Fremon Craig to explore these periods. She has already shown competence in dealing with topics related to coming of age. And a positive aspect of all this is that she develops the story very solidly, without needing to make her protagonist too innocent or portray her as a child who doesn’t see what everyone else sees and then faces disappointment, which has become quite common in films of this genre.
Before watching the film, I received a recommendation for a documentary on Prime Video called “Judy Blume: Forever” that is special for understanding the author’s impact on literature and how she becomes a kind of friend and advisor to thousands of people across different generations.
One of the creative decisions of the movie is to use the school project as a mediator in the quest to understand religions and family attitudes. It also serves as a time limit. There’s a predetermined time for the project, and Margaret needs to succeed within that time.
The soundtrack is composed by Hans Zimmer. It’s not a work I consider particularly memorable from him, and those who follow his career will probably notice the reuse of some compositions from other projects, which is quite common in the industry, especially between drama and comedy. However, the use of period music to identify situations and evoke a nostalgic feeling is employed in various circumstances.
So, the film introduced me to a story I wasn’t familiar with, featuring excellent performances and attempting to address religion, which can be a complex and heavy topic, in a light-hearted manner. It doesn’t always hit the mark in terms of tone, but it’s definitely a film that deserves the success and recognition it has been receiving.
I also published my review in portuguese