ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET.
(***˝)-VITO CARLI

"...plays like the best After School Afternoon Special you never saw"

Coming of Age Without Commercials

(060123) Are You There? It’s Me, Margaret. (The period is part of the title) is a very human and lovingly made coming of age film about a young girl that is going through big changes. It captures pre-teen females’ feelings and anxieties just as well as Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album does for older girls, and it plays like the best After School Afternoon Special you never saw. The film is full of authentic looking seventies detail like the Corn Flakes box complete with the rooster image and many are wearing post hippy fashions, although there is not much else in the film that hints of the 70's counterculture.

The film’s main character of course is Margaret Simon (well played by Abby Rider Fortson) whose parents are in an interfaith marriage. She encounters complications when her family moves from New York to New Jersey. She is horrified when the little corner shops she is used to are gone and shrubs and sprinklers are everywhere instead. But the biggest change is that she will be extremely far away from her adoring and controlling grandmother (another great performance by Kathy Bates from American Horror Story who looks about half her usual weight.)

The film's title is derived from the direct conversations with God often in the form of prayers Margaret has throughout the entire movie. She alternately confides in the almighty while asking for a variety of things, turning the act of prayer into an ongoing external monologue. In one of her early prayers, she asks God to please make sure New Jersey is "not that horrible.” But at another point she is not even sure God exists (or at least she says she is not sure). The situation is complicated because her parents have largely turned their backs on their birth faiths (Dad's Judaism and Mom's Christianity) because they have mostly experienced the negative side of each religion. This complicates matters to the point where during a Florida visit to her Jewish grandma, Margaret is steered by granny into a Jewish temple for services under fictional pretenses and without asking.

Margaret soon ends up befriending an outgoing neighbor girl who asks her to join her exclusive club. To become a member the Girls in the club undergo a sort of initiation. To join they must: write down the names of all the boys they like in a book the girls refer to as "the boy book", demonstrate that they all wear bras (although most of them don’t have breasts yet), and all together they must chant: “we must we must increase our bust“ in the hopes that it will make them develop quicker.

In a way both the mom and daughter eventually end up rebelling in their own ways against the conformity of the Jersey suburbs. The daughter in one of the best scenes joins the girl everyone labeled as a slut because she matured sexually first in a glorious dance to Shocking Blue’s version of Venus. This is one of the most heart-warming scenes since the big sing-along scene during the bus ride in Almost Famous. The goofy song perfectly captures the hippy dippy pop sensibility of the era and is used well in the scene. The past setting is a perfect excuse to pack the soundtrack with classic oldies by Dusty Springfield (Son of a Preacher Man), Jackie Wilson (Reel Petite) and Joan Baez (The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.) as well as pop hits by the Guess Who and Cat Stevens.

My only reservation is somewhat trivial in that the film is not particularly cinematic. A film like this which is made up of a lot of close ups seems like it would play just as well (if not better) on TV. I’m also fairly certain it would also work well on stage with all the monolog-ing that takes place. So, I really don't see a need for viewers to rush out to see it in the theatres-it will play just as well on TV when it get to TV.

As June begins and the year rapidly approaches the midway point, I feel this hasn’t been the greatest year for films so far. For me this "made for TV-esque" effort is probably one of the stronger American cinematic offerings of the year to date. If I do a Top 10 Films of the first half of the year list (as I have done in the past) this will definitely be somewhere on that list. Hopefully the second half of 2023 will produce enough dynamic, thought provoking cinematic films to push "Margaret" off any Year End Top 10 list come this December. Say down to-eleven.

Written & Directed by:    Kelly Fremon Craig, Based on the novel of the
 same name by Judy Blume
Starring:     Rachel McAdams, Abby Ryder Fortson, Elle
 Graham
Released:    04/23/23 (USA-wide)
Length:    106 minutes
Rating:    Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some
 suggestive involving sexual education
Available On:    At press time the film was playing at local
 theatres

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

Come to the next session of the Monthly Poetry Show on the first Saturday in June (June 3) at Tangible Books in Bridgeport from 8-10 at 3324 South Halsted hosted by Vittorio Carli.
Special features will include Faith Rice, Cathleen Ann Schandelmeier, Judy Soohoo, Sir Charles Edward Stanfield, Billy Tarlin, and Kaytee Thrun

ARE YOU THERE? IT'S ME, MARGARET. 2023 Gracie Films
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.

 

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