Are You There, Beauty? It’s That ‘Margaret’ Movie

As a work of cinematic storytelling, this is stunning work. But what about the Judy Blume problem?

Poster for ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’
Poster for ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ (photo: Lionsgate)

As a work of cinema, the recent release Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is a nearly perfect film. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Several of the scores of mainstream critics that have given the project a 99% recommendation have also used the extremely rare “p” (perfect) word. Some other words people who know cinema are using about the movie include “effervescent,” “refreshing,” “charming,” “brilliant” and, oh yes, “wholesome.”

But I’ve been torn about recommending it, not because I am unsure of the merits of the movie, but because it’s based on a book by Judy Blume. 

A very talented writer with 90 million books sold in 32 languages, Blume has also been consistently, vociferously and perniciously wrong about all the social issues that matter. She is pro-abortion, pro-gender ideology and antithetical to organized religion. Her adult fiction, I am told, borders on the pornographic. My sister, the philosopher, was emphatic to me: “If you recommend this movie, you are going to send people to read her books and the books are evil!” And some of them definitely are. 

But the movie based on her early and most famous young adult novel, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, is the best movie I’ve seen in years. It’s thoughtful, humane, beautifully written and decidedly un-woke, with a cogent directorial vision gathering all its elements together into an impactful whole. But, Judy Blume?! Is it possible to separate the artist from her work?

There are those on one side of the culture wars who advocate canceling politically liberal artists as stridently as those on the other side cancel conservatives. The impulse is to see everything as a slippery slope. If we grant any person with opposing views any merit or credit, we are de facto endorsing them and, by extension, all their errors. 

It is disconcerting to this mindset when the Holy Spirit “blows where he wills,” and presents us with compelling, beautiful art from someone who is our enemy. Really, how dare God muddy the waters of post-modern life like that?! 

In the interests of keeping the main thing, the main thing, our first task must be to assess the movie as a work of cinema. And through that lens, there is much to love in this film. 

I loved that it is a movie set in the 1970s but that resists getting lost in that weird era. The production design avoids romanticizing the bell bottoms and “groovy man” jargon of those days and instead puts the real focus on the timeless relatable qualities of the characters.

I loved that the screenplay is masterfully underwritten. The talented cast of actors play so many scenes with a look instead of lines of dialogue. This use of subtext places a lot of faith in the audience, and takes a lot of talent in both writing and acting.

From a story standpoint, I loved that Are You There God? is an insightful depiction of a young person as a naturally spiritual being. Despite all the talk about its treatment of puberty, the movie is essentially about a young girl’s yearning for connection with God. 

Margaret is the child of a mixed marriage — Jewish and Christian — and is being raised without any religion. But she’s naturally religious, and her private conversations with God make for most of the film’s poignancy and depth. The treatment in the film of Margaret’s investigation into different religions is respectful and heartwarming. There is no cynicism in the movie about Margaret’s desire to find a way to God. 

I loved the beautiful, loving, functional, traditional nuclear family at the heart of the story. Margaret’s parents love each other and her and are doing their best to raise their daughter well. The role of Barbara, the mother and wife, will certainly get Rachel McAdams a well-deserved Oscar nomination. There are a few mother-daughter scenes in the movie that are simply lovely.

I loved the wry treatment of Margaret’s curiosity about puberty. It’s played as childlike and funny where it could have been explicit and gross. And in this regard, the film could be a helpful bridge to get families with kids talking about awkward topics. 

The truth is, most parents dread these conversations with their kids. I know in my group of women friends, we went around the room and only a couple had received clear guidance about sex and puberty from their parents. Everybody else had pieced it all together much like Margaret does in the movie. 

I loved the presentation of Margaret figuring out friendship and finding her way to reject the very real peer pressure that is so much of adolescence. The movie lets us feel with Margaret her need to belong and find acceptance, and yet choose her own path. 

The critics aren’t wrong. As a work of cinematic storytelling, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret is stunning work. It made me smile a lot, and started me thinking about how I could be kinder to kids. But, what about the Judy Blume problem?

In his famous meeting with artists at the close of Vatican II Dec. 8, 1965, Pope St. Paul VI expressed the Church’s support of beautiful art regardless of its source, saying, “If you are friends of true art, you are our friends!” Pope St. John Paul II said many things along these same lines, including the astounding assertion that secular artists could be a conduit of revelation for the rest of us. He wrote:

In so far as it seeks the beautiful … art is by its nature a kind of appeal to the mystery. Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption (Letter to Artists, 1999).

One problem with “canceling” art from artists who are icons of error is that we are all messed up in different ways. I’m not an advocate of normalizing gender switching, but I have other problems. I don’t want my screenplays to be pre-judged because of my sins. I want them to succeed or fail on their own merits. Who could withstand the litmus test underlying the cancel impulse?

That we are all sinners, even really bad ones, doesn’t preclude the possibility of bringing forth the beautiful. In fact, wrestling with darkness, remorse and despair, can often produce prophetic art. Ask Dostoevsky, who said his “Grand Inquisitor” in The Brothers Karamazov, the most forceful argument against a loving God ever seen in literature, came from his own terrible struggle with doubt. 

Michelangelo Merisi (Amerighi) da Caravaggio had a vicious temper that drew him into frequent violence. He hung out in criminal gangs, spent lots of time in jail and finally ended up killing the son of a noble family. And yet, he was indisputably the greatest painter in Rome in the 17th century, and basically launched the Baroque period. His work includes some of the greatest sacred art ever done. The Church continued to shower him with commissions even as he was in hiding for murder.

Still, sometimes we need to reject works of art if the context out of which they are coming is intentionally in the service of evil. This is why I can’t recommend that my film students watch Birth of a Nation, which was made by D.W. Griffith to be a vehicle for pro-KKK propaganda. The battle scenes are still reckoned as masterpieces, but the project is consciously racist. 

So too, we don’t study the films of Leni Riefenstahl, who was the extremely talented filmmaker for Hitler’s Third Reich. Even though she is probably one of the greatest female directors ever, her work was made to showcase Arian supremacy. It’s evil, and so off-limits. We have the same grounds for shunning pornography, which is produced by the exploitation of young people, and geared only to titillate and eroticize.

But this is different from the work of plain old sinners who in their artistic work are seeking to create something beautiful, good and true. 

Mozart was a Freemason, but his Mass in C Minor is not subversive because of that. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is not propaganda for the sexual revolution, but a beautifully told, compassionate story for young girls to help them process adolescence. It might not be your cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean it’s evil.


Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret carries a PG-13 rating for mature themes. It has a pencil drawing of male genitalia, shows the girls looking at an adult magazine, features lots of talk about menstruation and has a couple of profanities. Some material is not suitable for children.