Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (2023)

Are you there, God? It’s me, Jakub. I know we haven’t spoken in a while. In fact, I believe it must have been quite a few decades since I figured out you were fake. Also, apologies for asking your devout disciples very uncomfortable questions. I was young and didn’t quite realize yet that people consumed by whatever ideology were not only unlikely to change their minds when confronted with contradictory opinions and – heavens, forbid – testable facts, but also that they were more likely to dig their heels in and go down swinging. I have since chilled, but I presume you are still holding a grudge. I should know based on available evidence, The Old Testament, that holding a grudge is how you rock on Sundays. So, I can only surmise that you are either still sore about the militant atheism of my salad days or that you don’t, in fact, exist, because it would have been a nice gesture on your behalf to send me a sign – I don’t know, a burning bush or a bolt of lightning… nothing too dramatic – to let me know I should not go to see Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.  

I mean, I don’t even know where to begin with this movie, so I think it’s safe to recount my feelings by going all the way back to my entering the cinema. I walked in when the ads were already playing, turned the corner and glanced across the auditorium. You know, to get a quick feel of what kind of crowd I’d be sharing this experience with. I didn’t so much as slow down or show even a slight jitter in my gait when I noticed the audience was 100% female. And by sitting down I was about to ruin this perfect statistic. To cut a long story short, I don’t think I ever assumed a movie about a pre-pubescent girl figuring out her spirituality, learning all about peer pressure, bras, menstruation and boys would even attempt to keep me invested in the way a typical Dreamworks animation always remembers to throw in a raunchy innuendo here and there to keep the parents trapped at a screening of The Secret Life of Pets 2 off their phones. Therefore, I think you should take my one-and-a-half-star rating of Are You There, God? I’s Me, Margaret (or AYTGIMM, as I shall henceforth refer to it to show both how clever and lazy I am in one fell swoop) with a grain of salt. Two grains, perhaps.  

That’s because – judging by the audible reception this movie received from all the ladies in the house – there is an audience for it and if this is your fetish, then you shall have a proper night out. Based on which scenes in the movie got the most chuckles, gasps and emotionally empowered sighs, I can only surmise that AYTGIMM is perfectly capable of tugging on your own recollections of growing up, figuring out the geography of your body and learning to navigate the treacherous waters of intrasexual competition, rules of attraction and the body horror of intimacy. And you maybe even stand a better chance of resonating with this movie if you are at the right age range to remember the culture of the time. So, in a way, this movie is a perfect nostalgia vehicle for a female “boomexer” (someone born at the tail end of the baby boomer cohort, for those unable to decode my snazzy portmanteau). And the younger you are, the less you’ll likely have in common with it.  

The rest need not apply. And that’s because if you are incapable of bonding with Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) based on nostalgic projection of your own experiences, the chances of your liking the movie drop dramatically. And if, like me, memories of Terms of Endearment, The Evening Star or Steel Magnolias occupy the same space in your brain that Vietnam flashbacks do for traumatized veterans, then you shall quickly find out that the experience of watching AYTGIMM is going to be quite dreadful. And that’s not an accident, either because Kelly Fremon Craig who adapted and directed this movie, is a self-confessed fan of James L. Brooks, the mastermind producer and director of Terms of Endearment, a movie whose poster should be found in the Oxford English Dictionary as a visual accompaniment to the definition of the word “schmaltz”.  

In a way, it can be a bit entertaining to see this movie as a ‘me too’ attempt at a legacy James L. Brooks movie where the characters are directed to enable certain connections. For instance, it doesn’t take long to see the bubbly granny played by Kathy Bates as this movie’s take on Shirley MacLaine, or that the feisty-yet-whimsical energy Rachel McAdams brings to the proceedings derives at least in part from the way Debra Winger carried herself in Terms of Endearment. Also, maybe if you squint you’ll see Kate MacCluggage’s character Jan (mother to Margaret’s friend-turned-nemesis Nancy, in turn portrayed by Elle Graham) as a cross between Patsy from Terms of Endearment and Brie from Desperate Housewives. However, you’ll have to squint quite a bit harder to see any Benny Safdie’s character Herb as a distant relative to Jeff Daniels’ aloof intellectual-stroke-cheater; he’s way more likeable. Almost too likeable.  

In fact, this entire movie attempts to be overwhelmingly saccharine and whimsical, arguably because of conscious design to convey the filmmaker’s love for Terms of Endearment, Something’s Gotta Give and As Good As It Gets. Which is totally fine if you think fondly of those titles. If not, then I can only tell you to stay the hell away from AYTGIMM because it will give you diabetes. It’s such a sickly slice of nostalgia that you can barely see there’s pastry underneath all that emotional frosting. Even Hans Zimmer’s score contributes to this veritable pile-on with its characteristically cliché tones, uplifting piano passages and tear-jerking strings that he must have picked out of his “schmaltzy” cheat sheet left after he scored such gritty masterpieces as The Holiday, or even the already mentioned Something’s Gotta Give and As Good As It Gets.  

In conclusion, AYTGIMM, despite its seemingly general appeal, is not a movie for everyone. It’s definitely not for me, I’ll tell you that much and if anything, it reaffirmed my strong conviction that God does not exist, because I imagine he would have stopped me from going to see this or at least would have had the decency to send me a text message, or something. It’s a coming-of-age festival of nostalgia aimed precisely at a rather specific sub-demographic of middle-aged women who should then make the best of it and take their own daughters to see it with them, as a bonding exercise. I, however, will continue championing Eighth Grade as a more generally appealing coming-of-age movie that speaks to girls without the veneer of a period piece or the ersatz spirituality manufactured by the author of the book AYTGIMM was based on.  


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