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A story about an 11-year-old girl praying to God to make her breasts grow and her period come isn’t an obvious movie pick for a middle-aged audience—but only if you don’t take into account that the story is a film adaptation of a cherished novel by the beloved and bestselling author, Judy Blume.
When you do, it makes perfect sense that the theatre is full of women in their forties, fifties and sixties, as it was when I saw it. And it’s giving them plenty of laughs. The delightful, entertaining movie does justice to Blume’s unapologetically honest story about girlhood and naturally has much to offer pre-teen girls. But it is also sure to appeal to another audience: middle-aged women. For those of us well past the agony of middle school, it’s a heartwarming, laugh-out-loud funny trip down memory lane.
Blume’s very popular middle-grade novel, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret., was first published in 1970. I didn’t read it until the 1980s, when I was approaching the middle-school years and she was my favourite author. Like so many girls, I read all her paperbacks: Blubber, Iggie’s House, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Tiger Eyes, etc. To gauge her popularity, consider that the now 85-year-old author’s 29 books have sold over 90 million copies. Blume’s story about a girl on the verge of hitting puberty was still relevant when I read it, and judging by this film it still will be to scores of girls.
The woman behind the screenplay is 42-year-old American writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, who also wrote 2016’s The Edge of Seventeen. It’s set in 1970, when Margaret’s parents move their family from New York City to the New Jersey suburbs. It follows Margaret through the sixth grade at a new school, making new friends, becoming interested in boys, learning about menstruation and trying to decide which religion, if any, interests her—a question complicated by the fact that her father’s family is Jewish, and her mother’s is Christian.
Stories about teenagers and pre-teens don’t usually make my watch list these days but this one has much to offer the female audience—especially older female viewers—things we rarely get nowadays from blockbuster saturated theatres.
For starters, Craig’s production includes lots of affection between its female characters, such as hugs and the exchange of ‘I love yous.’ It’s heartwarming to see the close, loving mother-daughter relationship between Margaret, played by Abby Ryder Fortson, and her mum (Barbara), played by 44-year-old Canadian actress Rachel McAdams. Margaret also has a close, loving relationship with her grandma Sylvia (74-year-old Kathy Bates).
She and her friends hug lots, too. This congeniality may not seem worth getting excited about, but since it’s still unfortunately rare in film—and an inclusion appreciated by female viewers—it’s worth mentioning. Even after a few feminist waves it’s still more common on the big screen to see female characters pitted against each other rather than enjoying congenial relationships.
The Gracie Films produced screenplay has other things to offer the female audience. The characters’ conversations are natural and relatable to women. Craig’s female characters are comfortably dressed—not hypersexualized, as they so often are in film now. They wear flat shoes, pants and tops that aren’t too revealing.
The movie’s greatest, and most unique strength, however, is its honest, unapologetic focus on what puberty means to girls. It’s what makes this movie a great pick for pre-teens and a wonderful movie for mums to watch with their daughters—or for grandmas and their granddaughters.
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