When I cuddled up with my 10-year-old daughter to watch an early screening of the new movie Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret earlier this month, I wasn’t sure what she would think of any of it. Would it be dated, or in my daughter’s modern-day parlance, cringe? Or would it be what I remembered from Judy Blume books when I was her age: A voice in the void that actually, truly understood how I was feeling as a pre-teen girl?
As the final credits rolled, I could tell that my kid had had the exact experience I did at 10 with all things Judy Blume. She felt seen. And she loved it.
She was also dying for me to give her permission to get Rachel McAdam’s 1970s feathered bangs. But that’s a different issue.
I sat down with author Judy Blume, as well as with the film’s director Kelly Fremon Craig, via Zoom to learn more about why this story still hits so hard, at any age, in such a timeless way — and what the process was like to get there.
The very first thing I wanted to know was: What does it feel like to finally see one of your books on the silver screen, after over 50 years?
“There will never be another experience like this one,” Blume said. “Never, never, never. It’s just the experience of a lifetime, watching it the first time. I was there [on set] sometimes in person, and so it wasn’t a complete shock to me, but it was wonderful and moving. And I watched it with my husband. It made him cry. It made us laugh. It’s the most wonderful movie. I love it.”
The movie, which stars Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret, Rachel McAdams as Margaret’s mom, Barbara, and Kathy Bates as Margaret’s grandmother Sylvia, captures the same timeless feel of the book. While the cars, clothes, phones, and feathered bangs are vintage, it also feels distinctly modern at the same time. It’s something even my daughter commented on.
And according to both Blume and the director, that was exactly what they were going for.
“Not even for a half a second did we think about modernizing it,” Craig said.
“And not even for half a second, would I have let them make this if they did. That was the one thing I knew before I met them,” Blume added. “If they said, no, we have to modernize it, I would’ve had to say no.”
“I think that there’s something about when you are a girl this age now watching somebody 50 years ago go through the same thing that you are going through today,” Craig said. “There’s something reassuring about that, knowing that there’s this long lineage and we’ve all been through it and everybody going forward will go through it.”
“It connects the generations,” Blume added.
And while things have certainly changed for teenaged girls in the last 50 years, especially when it comes to technology like the internet and social media, the root struggles of girls and young women remain the same.
“It’s probably harder today because of social media,” Blume said. “But, you know, every generation has a hard time. We all have our own hard times.”
“I agree,” said Craig. “It adds a different pressure. I don’t think it’s healthy to be able to see everyone else’s life in front of you all the time. It makes you compare yourself far more than you would if you weren’t seeing those images thrust at you all day long every day. And it’s not all true.”
“And some of it is timeless that way,” Blume added. “I mean, how you look at yourself, we certainly compared ourselves to our friends back then. Growing up is always tough.”
Blume, who also has a new documentary biopic, Forever, on Amazon Prime, also noted that the lives of adult women have changed in some ways over the decades, but not in others. A fact that’s reflected in the updated but also timeless story arc of Margaret’s mother Barbara, a middle-aged mom who’s struggling to balance work, family, and her passions all at once.
Blume looked back on her own time as a working mom in the 70s and 80s, and how her authorship was received by the other moms on the cul-de-sac where she lived at the time.
“I don’t know that anybody ever said anything to me about [publishing books]. It was so surreal how different it was then. It was like, ‘Oh, she thinks she can write books now!’ I didn’t feel any support. And that’s sad. I’m still very friendly with someone from that cul-de-sac. So, I take her out of this. But, I felt so alone. I felt so alone,” she said. “And for Kelly, it’s, you know, different generations. Most women are working. But it’s still a really hard balance.”
“I find I’m constantly dealing with crushing maternal guilt,” Craig agreed. “Because I work a lot and I love my work, but sometimes that means it takes me away from my kid. Trying to find the balance between those things has been tough.”
Finally, I let my 10-year-old daughter ask a question too. She wanted to know, in all of her Generation Alpha glory, why the movie didn’t show actual period blood.
“That is really interesting. I’ve never been asked that,” Craig said kindly. “I think the movie is more about where she was emotionally — like how she felt — than it is about the actual specifics of the event.”
“And also the actual specifics of it is different for everyone,” Blume responded. “So if you showed it one way, a girl might be like, ‘Oh mine looks different.’ Also, it’s not Carrie,” she added, laughing.
Reading Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret as a kid was all about Margaret’s storyline and feelings. Watching the movie as an adult with my own child, I found myself identifying with her mom — and even thinking about what it will be like when I’m Silvia’s age, too. It’s about the experience of moving through the world as a woman, and it’s such a treat that moms, daughters, and grandmothers will get to experience this story, together, in a new medium now.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret hits theaters on Friday, April 28.