"I liked it. My mother liked it more."
--Local fifteen-year-old girl.
After fifty years, Judy Blume's novel, famous, celebrated, and notorious, finally made it to film. It's well-acted, expensively-produced, and true to its source in all important respects. Rarely has a movie been so entirely aimed at 11-14-year-old girls and their moms.
The basic story: eleven-year-old Margaret moves, makes new friends, explores religion (her father was raised Jewish and her mother, evangelical Christian. Neither is devout, but Margaret prays regularly), and deals with the concerns that attend young girls undergoing puberty.
They've kept the setting to the early 1970s. There has been too much cultural change since then, and putting it in the present would have required too many alterations to the story and the characters' interactions. It's a stunning recreation. I was a young child in this era. This film captures pretty much what it looked and felt like.
The acting is exceptional, even more so when one considers the young age of the main cast. Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret necessarily has to carry the movie, interact credibly with her peers, and play opposite the likes of Amy Adams as her mother and Kathy Bates as her grandmother. She succeeds beyond a director's wildest dreams.
And so we get explorations of friendships, both within and outside of gender, familial relationships, a personal quest for God, and, of course, puberty and periods.
The film received nearly unanimous critical acclaim and numerous awards and nominations. It did well enough at the box office, though less successfully than anticipated. It probably didn't help that it received a PG-13 rating in the United States, which suggested that a depiction of the trials and tribulations of puberty might not be appropriate for, you know, people experiencing them. Streaming and other home-viewing options should make amends. The grade six girl down the street is reading her mother's old copy of the novel and they plan to watch the film together when it's done. But, despite its intended audience and some inherent too-precious moments, Margaret can be enjoyed by anyone.
A few changes from the novel:
-while the neighbourhood remains predominantly white, it is more racially diverse than in the novel.
-the grandparents get to meet.
-Margaret and two of her friends reconcile with Laura Danker, the girl who developed first and has become the target of rumours. There's also a more definite negative reaction against the girl who spread those rumours.
-a creepy action by a male teacher gets omitted. However, we only hear about in in the book, second hand, as a claim made by the rumour-spreading character whose comments on other matters get questioned and in some cases revealed to be outright fabrications.
-Perhaps most significantly, Margaret's mother moves out of the margins and gets her own subplot. Her experiences somewhat reflect on her daughter's, they connect to the shifting social landscape of the times, and they flesh her out as a character. They also justify hiring a high-profile actress for the part.
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Writer: Kelly Fremon Craig, from the novel by Judy Blume.
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
Amari Alexis Price as Janie Loomis
Katherine Mallen Kupferer as Gretchen Potter
Kate MacCluggage as Mrs. Jan Wheeler
Aidan Wojtak-Hissong as Moose Freed
Landon S. Baxter as Evan Wheeler
Mackenzie Joy Potter as Mamma Bunny
Olivia Williams as Witch
Echo Kellum as Mr. Benedict
Simms May as Norman Fisher
Zack Brooks as Philip Leroy
Jecobi Swain as Freddy Barnett
Isol Young as Laura Danker
Judy Blume as Neighbour walking her dog