Photo courtesy Lionsgate
Abby Ryder Fortson appears as Margaret in “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” in this promotional image.

Photo courtesy Lionsgate Abby Ryder Fortson appears as Margaret in “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” in this promotional image.

On the Screen: A timeless ‘Margaret’ comes of age in insightful adaptation

I went into “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” on Sunday effectively blind

Late in my high school years, as I was struggling deeply with a lack of direction as well as deteriorating grades and friendships, I decided to reconnect with the church. It was one of a few ways I was desperately seeking meaning and community that I ultimately never found. I wanted to fit in — but I didn’t.

That stint ended pretty quickly, but not before a Catholic confirmation. It also left me prepared to later become disillusioned with organized religion entirely. Years later, I didn’t expect to see a lot of those same emotions realized quite so vividly on the big screen in what I thought was just going to be a cute coming-of-age movie.

I went into “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” on Sunday effectively blind. I knew that it was based on a novel by Judy Blume, that that novel has been regularly challenged for its depictions of religion and menstruation, and that it starred Abby Ryder Fortson — one of the best parts of one of my favorite movies in 2014’s “Ant-Man.” It made an impact on me — even though I almost skipped it just because it has the word “God” in the title.

In the film, Fortson’s titular Margaret grapples with growing up, making friends and trying to fit in. A big part of that is trying to figure out her relationship with religion. Of equal importance to the story is Margaret and her friends chasing their own maturity, together wishing for their periods to start, pushing one another to start wearing bras and pads and gossiping about their peers.

Margaret’s parents, Rachel McAdams’ Barbara and Benny Safdie’s Herb, are Christian and Jewish respectively. Owing to their divided heritage — and to their own struggles with the pressures of their parents — they made the decision to raise Margaret without religion. Margaret, they say, can make her own choice when she’s older.

Throughout the film, Margaret explores religion and struggles with her own failure to connect. This comes to a head when the desires of her parents and grandparents clash at an ill-fated dinner.

I found a lot to resonate with both Margaret’s frustration’s with religion, but also the larger themes of the film that center on the facades we put on and the performative aspects of society.

Each character faces pressure to put on a show to fit in. We see Margaret make decisions that hurt herself and others in order to make friends at her new school. Barbara is constantly working to maintain a curated face in front of the school parent teacher association or as the gracious host of a put-together home in front of guests.

Happiness, for Margaret, isn’t found when she gets her period. It isn’t found when she goes to church. It’s found when she frees herself from the doubt and the pressure, when she realizes she simply doesn’t care what anyone else thinks — that it never mattered in the first place. She rebels against the institutions that drive the people around her to behave the way they do.

That resolution to the film’s central conflicts makes for a fun subversion as its lead is able to grow to the point where she realizes those pursuits actually never mattered. It’s a celebration of individuality. Margaret realizes a lot of things at 12 years old that I’m still trying to reconcile at 26.

Though maybe it doesn’t sound like it, “Margaret” balances all these heavy themes with a sense of earnest and humor. It’s reliably funny — filled with vignettes of a certain age of youth immediately before puberty.

All of these things are depicted and discussed in the film refreshingly without restraint — they don’t dance around any of the heavy topics.

I’m easily won over by a charming coming-of-age story, but I loved “Margaret” for taking the framework and using that lens to more deeply explore societal pressures. Though I’ve not ever had to worry about or look forward to getting my period, dealing with insecurities and trying to navigate social relationships are one of the few truly ubiquitous experiences in contemporary culture.

“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” is charming, funny, and intelligent. It’s coming in at kind of a weird time as the summer season is about to kick off in a big way, but it’s worth catching — even if it does have the word “God” in the title.

“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” will be playing this weekend at Kenai Cinema. Check showtimes and purchase tickets at

Reach reporter Jake Dye at

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