Two days ago (Wednesday, 4.26) I wrote about anticipating negative vibes from Kelly Fremon Craig‘s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. All those obsequious reviews (falsetto-voiced Scott Menzel called it “one of the best films of ’23”) got my dander up. Florid praise from a notoriously unreliable cabal of sensitive virtue-signallers will do that. I was ready to hate-vent but needed to wait, obviously, until I saw it.

Well, I saw Margaret early Thursday evening, and within minutes I knew my suspicions had been justified — the critics had overpraised it. But at the same time I realized it was a harmless and congenial thing — a mild-mannered ABC After-School Special that would never allow butter to melt in its mouth.

Based on Judy Blume’s celebrated 1970 novel, it’s just a mezzo-mezzo, no-big-deal saga about the trials and tribulations of an 11 or 12 year-old girl. Uncertainty and anxiety about God Fantasy #1 (i.e., that the Cosmic Almighty cares or is even aware of Margaret’s existence), for one thing. Not to mention moving from the comforts of New York City to a wonderbread New Jersey suburb; not to mention new girlfriends (including a socially awkward giraffe), boys with armpit hair and the twin prospects of menstruation and budding breasts.

This?” I said to myself. “This is what inspired Scott Menzel and his congregated colleagues to shift into gush mode?”

There’s nothing to hate here, and at the same time nothing to get all that excited about. It’s not even a meal, this movie — more like a baloney and lettuce sandwich on toast with mayonnaise. It just toddles and ambles along in a nice massage-y way…fine.

Abby Ryder Fortson overacts a bit (i.e., tries too hard) as Margaret, but not to any harmful degree. Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates as her mother and Jewishy grandmother are fine. Even Benny Safdie is inoffensive.

How does it fuck things up then? It doesn’t — it’s modest and unassuming and stays within a certain perimeter. It does, however, stumble here and there.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is set in either ’70 or the very late ’60s — a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. If the fictitious suburb of Farbrook, New Jersey (where Margaret and her parents move to) bears any resemblance to my old home town of Westfield or, let’s say, Saddle Brook or Plainfield or Montclair, then it wasn’t Newark or Trenton or Rahway or East Orange. Which is to say it was most likely a middle- to upper-middle-class, mostly segregated white town. (For what it’s worth, Far Brook is the name of a private school in upscale Millburn, New Jersey.)

I’m sorry to break it to some of you but that’s how things were during the LBJ and Nixon administrations. I was there so don’t tell me. There were some POCs in Westfield but not many, and they lived in a less-flush section of town that was south of the railroad tracks.

It is therefore not honest for Margaret to cast a bearded, good-looking black guy as a home room teacher. (If a black teacher had theroetically been hired by a white school district he certainly would’ve ditched the beard, which is way too Eldridge Cleaver-ish.) And there are too many black kids in Margaret’s class. It’s just not an honest representation of how things were in whitebread towns 53 years ago. Teenagers of different feathers simply didn’t hang together for the most part. Even WASPs and Italians (i.e., “guineas”) kept their distance.

There’s a big Act Two scene in which McAdams’ bigoted parents, who opposed her marriage to the Jewish Safdie, decide to pay a sudden visit, and an argument ensues between them and Bates about which religion the ambivalent Margaret will sign up for. The dialogue has a clumsy, too-blunt quality…it doesn’t flow. And Bates, we’re told, has impulsively driven all the way up from Florida in order to confront McAdams’ parents, and not alone but with a new white-haired boyfriend. That’s a two-and-a-half-day drive!

The offshoot is that Margaret gradually divorces herself from God and religion. Plus she finally starts menstruating so all’s well on that score.

Amy Nicholson repeated: “As charming as the film is in its best moments, it’s hard not to be frustrated as it backpedals from the book’s awareness that not all wrongs are righted. Sometimes, our heroines might stay buddies with bullies. Sometimes they might run from conflict and never explain themselves. Sometimes, they might even hurt people without making amends. Sometimes frank talk is more impactful than an idealized fantasy.”