It is 1970 and the almost-12-year-old Margaret Simon returns from summer camp to boxes strewn about her family’s jammed New York City apartment. Why? Because she and her parents are moving to New Jersey, her grandmother blurts out before her folks can ease their only child into the news. And so begins the yearlong adventure at the heart of this pitch-perfect adaptation of the author Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”
The director-writer Kelly Fremon Craig’s rendering of the book about puberty, family and nascent spirituality offers lessons in how a cherished object, when treated with tender and thoughtful regard, needn’t turn precious. It doesn’t hurt that Craig and the producer James L. Brooks assembled a cast that delivers the joys and blunders waiting at the edge of childhood but also touches on the pangs of other kinds of growing up. Rachel McAdams and Benny Safdie portray Margaret’s youthful parents, Barbara and Herb. Kathy Bates is Margaret’s paternal grandmother, Sylvia, of the aforementioned blurt.
But it is Abby Ryder Fortson who carries the day, or rather the school year. In her face, Margaret’s glimmers of dawning self-awareness and hurt ring true. From the moment the soon-to-be sixth grader utters the movie’s first prayer — which ends with the entreaty, “Please don’t let New Jersey be too horrible” — Fortson’s Margaret proves to be a protagonist who is as incidentally funny as she is authentic.