Movie Review: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. doesn’t take long to show you its worth – an easily digestible, refreshing throwback film certainly worth the price of admission. Abby Ryder Fortson and Rachel McAdams star, with the latter hopefully participating in next year’s awards season race.
Boundless filmmaking can be so hard to come by. I’ve always felt that to be the best way to describe movies from Richard Linklater, Greta Gerwig, Amy Heckerling, Kelly Fremon Craig, and others. They play within the fundamental and foundational rules of making feature length movies, but the concepts of traditional storytelling techniques and conflict feel absent from their movies – and there’s a wistful, and frankly delightful, feeling to each of these filmmaker’s releases.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. is the sophomore movie from director Kelly Fremon Craig, and it’s another outing from her that fits snuggly into this category that I listed above. Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise given that Fremon Craig’s first film, The Edge of Seventeen, is such a remarkably fitting movie for this mold as well, but I was anticipating seeing just how far she would be able to take stylistic filmmaking like this into a new effort.
And I loved The Edge of Seventeen, which made seeing Fremon Craig’s next film a priority whenever I was able to get my hands on it. Her ability to place lifelike and personable events and problems in such a delightful, innocent world is such a unique contrast that few filmmakers are willing to adventure into and try – you don’t have to take her movies too seriously in order to enjoy them and still gleam a lot from.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. follows a full school year for 11-year-old Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) and her family as they move from New York to New Jersey in order to accommodate her father Herb’s (Benny Safdie) new job. The move proves to be a challenging one for Margaret as she struggles to adapt to new friends and the beginning of adolescence.
Alongside that, her mother, Barbara (Rachel McAdams) contemplates her own role in the household and how she can make the best of strenuous family relationships and raising a daughter going through a tumultuous time in her own life.
As is the case now with both of Kelly Fremon Craig’s movies, casting seems like a notable point of emphasis given that both Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. and The Edge of Seventeen have stellar casts of actors and actresses bumping up with fame at various points in their careers. Hailee Steinfeld and Haley Lu Richardson were budding leading actresses just young enough to convey high school feelings in The Edge of Seventeen, and similar emotional vulnerability can be felt coursing through Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Abby Ryder Fortson still feels like a relative newcomer outside of playing in a few Ant-Man movies, and her volatile range of emotions feels like the heartbeat of the movie. While Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. plays through the lens of three generations of women in the same family, it really starts and stops with Margaret and actress Abby Ryder Fortson.
Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates (as Margaret’s grandmother Sylvia) both turn in equally insightful and defenseless performances as they wrestle with shifting family dynamics that come with growing and moving away from what is considered as a comfortable living situation. McAdams spends much of the movie attempting to fill time with what she deems as meaningful, even if her specific tasks change from day to day because she doesn’t feel she’s fulfilling her own purpose.
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And frankly that feels like the thematic goal of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. There isn’t a straightforward, single-laned story of adolescence, religion, and family – it’s a melting pot of the three, and inevitably feels more raw and sincere because it doesn’t try to hold your hand towards those answers. These are questions constantly being undone and reexamined through decades of movies, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. feels more like a recognition of the ambiguous rather than an attempt at solving these themes.
The tone and feel to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. never feels too much unlike The Edge of Seventeen or other movies within the similar subgenres that these two fit into. They’re delightfully uncomplicated – easy to digest and happy to laugh along with. It’s incredibly funny and occasionally so awkward and cringy that it’s hard not to applaud after, particularly one dinner scene towards the back half that includes both set of grandparents (of different religions, mind you).
Overall, it’s hard not to get excited for another splendid time with the next Kelly Fremon Craig picture considering the resume she’s built for herself up to this point. Her movies are genuinely funny and moving, while still maintaining a sense of sincerity that it’s hard not to feel like is lost nowadays. Some movies get pushed out of a corporate assembly line, but not Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. – which feels like the product of brilliant minds with their own unique voices.
Where to watch Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.: VOD
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Movie Cast and Credits
Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret Simon
Rachel McAdams as Barbara Simon
Kathy Bates as Sylvia Simon
Benny Safdie as Herb Simon
Elle Graham as Nancy Wheeler
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Cinematography: Tim Ives
Composer: Hans Zimmer
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. on Letterboxd
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. on IMDb