Two minutes in heaven or 100 minutes with a solid movie? That's for you to decide. Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig in her sophomore outing, coming-of-age dramedy Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. is an adaptation of Judy Blume's novel of the same name. Abby Ryder Fortson stars as Margaret herself, an 11-year-old soon turning 12 who moves from New York City to New Jersey in 1970 along with her parents Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and Herb (Benny Safdie). Perhaps to help with changes in her life, she begins to internally converse with God. These changes include a new school, new friend group led by her neighbour Nancy Wheeler (Elle Graham), staying in touch with grandma Sylvia (Kathy Bates), crushes, first kisses, puberty and periods. She also starts to explore her own religious side since Barbara is a Christian and Herb is Jewish.
First of all, you don't have to worry about Barbara's well-being even though there's a Nancy Wheeler nearby; her biggest problem ends up being the hellhole that is PTA at the new school. With that settled, we can shift our focus on the compassionate and perceptive way that Craig is tackling this particular story. Her writing and direction balances shifts between Margaret's growing pains and the film's kind-hearted humour superbly, giving Fortson a lot of substantial material to work with while also creating a full picture of Barbara as a person and how those two relate to each other either verbally or emotionally. Ann Roth's costume design and set decor by Selina van den Brink help to colourise and shape the bond between Margaret and Barbara which is essentially the heartbeat of the movie even when adventures are waiting elsewhere.
Saying that the film is sweet and easy to watch can sound slightly more condescending than necessary—especially when it doesn't have major flaws since it's not taking risks in its respective genre—but the real magic of it is that you genuinely want to be and live with these characters. That's very much because the cast assembled by Melissa Kostenbauder and Craig is from top to bottom in excellent form. Whether a scene requires dramatic heft or comedic timing, all the figurative punches and punchlines land hard. Fortson, McAdams, Safdie and Bates are able to quickly establish a believable family unit which feels like it has a past, present and future, all the while kids in the movie are just as natural with each other, helped by the fact that Craig's script doesn't take the easy route with situations they're in or dialogue that they're then given. Now if only puberty was as enjoyable as that.
Smileys: Performance by a cast, screenplay, directing
Frowneys: Nothing too disappointing
Can you imagine a time when someone wanted to go to Florida? I certainly can't.