Coming-of-age stories create a specific gateway for the audience to experience fond reflections of their childhood. Curiosity, wonderment and a form of harmless envy reside in my mind when I think of how my parents lived through the full extent of the '70s.
Despite never physically experiencing the era of the 1970s, simply being afforded the opportunity with watching different pieces of footage, reading articles and gazing upon pictures exhibiting significant moments in American history from that time period creates sincere intrigue.
"Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" is an emotional, heartwarming and simple tale of an 11-year-old named Margaret Ann Simon narrating her existence through the growing pains that life contains. Upon hearing the news of her father receiving a promotion, requiring the family to move from New York to New Jersey, Margaret is placed into a circumstance where she's questioning her religious faith, puberty, friendships, family and understanding of what it means to accept the reality of growing into womanhood.
Most coming-of-age stories of the past tended to focus more on the male point of view. This film's direction offered more of a refreshing take on the realistic experience of young women in their adolescence. Starring Rachel McAdams, Abby Ryder Fortson and Kathy Bates, the movie treats audiences to reliving the '70s, or in my case, finding ourselves relating to the experiences of joining "secret clubs." Margaret's narrative reminded me of a period when there were no mobile phones, Internet, social media, and any and all forms of entertainment literally resulted in having to ride bikes, walk or run to a friend's house for outside and educational adventures.
Watching Margaret's story unfold within the structure of 1970s' New York and New Jersey treats the audience to how a stronger sense of community, family traditions and authentic friendships was far more common then compared to the current modern era. From a technical perspective, how the film was directed displays the continued return of a more traditional format of relying on presenting actual atmosphere and beautiful cinematography focusing on fashion, vehicles, dialogue, infrastructure and music from the very foundation of the '70s.
McAdams, Fortson and Bates all bring forth memorable and impactful performances, giving their characters realistic life and emotion. I've always found McAdams as not only an exquisitely beautiful woman, but also an amazingly talented actress able to convey any and all emotions ranging from naivety, sadness, confusion and happiness to anger and guilt with seamless ease. A favorite moment from the film has all of the characters in one scene feeding off each other's range of emotions. Without venturing into detailed spoiler territory, McAdams shines brilliantly in the highlighted scene I am describing. She also presents the warmth of the perfect housewife/mother from the period. How she hasn't won an Academy Award for her acting is beyond my understanding.
Fortson also shines as a naïve, spiritually and physically conflicted 11-year-old child seeking her place in an ever-changing world. Her authentic reactions mirror exactly how children often find themselves in complicated scenarios. An interesting concept brought into her story is her desperate need into understand and possibly accept the foundation religion will factor into her life. For example, her father was raised by strict Jewish parents, and his wife was raised by devout Christians. Already her life is experiencing a cruel and harsh dichotomy, resulting in one side of the family wanting to establish their set of beliefs and another offering their path. I truly found myself remembering how my parents often forced me to attend church, Sunday school or didn't allow certain TV shows, music or films during my childhood. It wasn't until I became older when they explained how my beliefs were my own decision.
Despite not having read the novelization this film was adapted from, the fact that director Kelly Fremon Craig accurately captured the conflict of a pre-teen wrestling with complicated interfaith decisions gained massive appreciation from me overall. Kathy Bates provides more of the humor dynamic as the by-the-book and outspoken grandmother willing to do and saying anything to protect her granddaughter from mental and physical anguish. She's always a treasure with any film or show where she's added to the cast.
Watching "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" will absolutely have viewers pointing out certain scenes in remembering every single aspect of their childhood. It's important that these types of films are being made now with the sense of providing sincere dialogue and powerful performances, triggering those memories of what it meant to be a child. There's nothing in the story that's inappropriate, traumatic, profane or disturbing. If anything, it's required viewing for any and all families, couples and friends. The '70s seemed like a far simpler existence, and this film captured the essence perfectly in my eyes.
My final verdict for this film is an enthusiastic, emotional and heartwarming two thumbs up and 10/10 for allowing me to relive elements of my childhood that I had long forgotten. An absolute must see. Everything about the story is perfect from beginning to end.
Isaiah Ridley works at Beacon Cinemas in Sumter. To watch his movie reviews online, find him @Izzy's Cinematic Escape on YouTube.
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