The Austin Chronicle

Navigating Puberty, Talking to God, and Bringing Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret to the Screen

Edge of Seventeen director, Kelly Fremon Craig, on adapting Judy Blume's YA classic

By Joelle DiPaolo, April 28, 2023, Screens

Back before smartphones and social media, Judy Blume guided girls through all the hardships of puberty – pimples, growth spurts, and all. Now, Edge of Seventeen writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig guides a new generation of girls in their transition to adulthood in a film adaptation of Blume's beloved 1970 novel, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

The book and film follow sixth-grader Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) as she moves to New Jersey. During a year full of hard changes and realizations, Margaret turns to God in an attempt to sort through her feelings. Channeling her own feelings of preteen awkwardness from when she first read the book, Fremon Craig wanted to lead the audience through the good, the bad, and the funny of this phase of life. "Your hair's a little greasy and your clothes are rumpled and you're just a bit of a mess," she said. "I wanted that texture, that sort of messiness everywhere." 

As Margaret walks, feet full of blisters, into a new phase of her life, Fremon Craig wanted to acknowledge a heightened sense of self-consciousness. "[As a kid] your whole world is what you see in front of you. You start to realize, 'Oh my god, I have a body and people have opinions about it.'" In the film, Fremon Craig celebrates oft-taboo topics like periods, which helped her cast aside embarrassment she once felt. "When I see my own messiness reflected back at me in a piece of art, it makes me feel less alone. There was a self-embracing that the movie encourages." 

Fremon Craig was also drawn to Margaret's spirituality. As Margaret, the child of Christian and Jewish parents, talks to God from the safety of her room, she explores religion as it's been presented to her in the form of churches and synagogues. Fremon Craig said, "I really found it so resonating and profound the way her spiritual curiosity carries her through. She'll continue to search and carve out her own sense of something greater beyond us." 

The story is also about Margaret's friendships. So, to foster connection on the set, Fremon Craig encouraged improvisation, and she explained the actress' own flair colored scenes, such as the girl's reactions to the anatomy book. "It forces everybody to be really present in the sense [that] because you don't know what your scene partner is going to say. You have to just react in the moment." 

For women who grew up with Margaret, the movie allows them to reconnect with their childhoods. However, outside Margaret's iconic inner monologue, Fremon Craig sought to explore the characters of her mother, Barbara (Rachel McAdams), and grandmother, Sylvia Simon (Kathy Bates), in more depth. "I wanted people to go to the theatre and expect that they would have this sort of nostalgic experience of remembering themselves as Margaret, but then have the surprise of relating on a more immediate level to Barbara or Sylvia. We are always struggling with life transitions, and you're always growing up. I feel like I'm constantly an awkward 12-year-old all over again." While the filmmaker connected with Margaret as a child, she said Barbara's character represents some of her own struggles as a working mother. "I desperately want to be a great mom and sometimes my career feels at odds with that. I'm always reaching for that balance and I don't know that I'll ever quite find it." 

While readers turn the last pages of the book after Margaret turns in her end-of-year project to her teacher, the movie gives us a few precious moments of her life beyond sixth grade. Fremon Craig said she hoped to show the progression of Margaret's character. "When you make a film, it's like your thesis on life. Margaret learns about who she wants to be."

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is in cinemas now. Read our review.

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