This is a beautifully crafted coming-of-age film about Margaret, an 11-year-old girl, as she adjusts to numerous changes in her life. Her family relocates from New York to New Jersey, she meets new people, her body changes as she approaches puberty, and she develops feelings for boys. All of these shifts are skilfully conveyed by an engaging script and compassionate performances by a stellar cast. I must remark that young actress Abby Ryder Fortson is a revelation! She did an excellent job as Margaret and was completely convincing. She exudes charisma and provides a great performance. I dare say that the film would not be as great without her in the lead. She IS Margaret!
The title of the movie (and the book from which it was based on) is in reference to the constant dialouge that Margaret has with God in her quest for happiness. This is by no means a religious movie but it does deal with the subject matter of faith impartially without being preachy or overly biased towards any one particular faith. Margaret’s father is a Jew while her mother is Catholic, and we get a bit of insight to the conflicts that this creates. Margaret sums this up beautifully when she writes her school research assignment on religion and her subsequent acceptance on her relation with God on her own terms. This represents what is probably the core message of the story amidst the other themes of growing up, family and friends.
It’s always a pleasure to see films like Are You There God? because they are not only entertaining but also uplifting. It provides a tapestry of feelings and concepts with which we can easily identify, making the experience a lot more appealing and meaningful. Much of the credit for the film’s success belongs to writer and director Kelly Fremon Craig, who is gifted with an excellent story telling skill as well as a very capable ensemble cast. Rachel McAdams excels as Margaret’s mother in a role that appears undemanding but is surprisingly powerful. Kathy Bates’ portrayal, the adoring grandma, is louder but more traditional.
Even though this is basically a coming of age tale of a young girl, it should not be limited to women and girls. The plot and messages are universal, and hey, we guys get to learn a thing or two about what the other sex has to go through as they grow into adults. It is one of the best films in this genre that I have watched.