I’ve been pretty excited to see this movie. The book was a staple in my precious library along with the entire Judy Blume collection. So we recently took advantage of a quiet night to rent the movie.
I was not disappointed. The movie begins with a confident Margaret circa 1970 enjoying her time at summer camp, then suddenly having her world turned upside down with news that the family is moving to the New Jersey burbs.
She navigates a friend circle that assigns value to people based on their puberty milestones – getting a period is the ideal, but developing too early is a sure sign of promiscuity.
At the same time, Margaret is exploring her relationship with God for a class project. Her mother was raised Christian, her father Jewish so they are letting Margaret grow up before she decides.
Margaret attends various services with her friends and Grandmother creating some lovely scenes of her eagerly
Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret is terrific. It must be terrifying to take on such an iconic role exploring a lot of intimate topics. She’s great, showing glimpses of her childhood joy fusing into her new maturing self. Abby is 14 so she carefully treads the 70’s setting with the universality of these experiences. She’s bubbly, curious, and not easily pigeonholed.
Rachel McAdams of Mean Girls fame offers a stellar performance as Margaret’s mom, struggling to fit in to a new environment while remaining true to herself.
Elle Graham who plays quasi Mean Girl Nancy Wheeler lit up the screen channeling Nellie Olson as she struggles to control her friends. The internet has noted that Nancy Wheeler is also a lead character on Stranger Things. In an interesting twist, Elle Graham played the older daughter of Jim Hopper, Sara.
Nancy’s manic need to control and manipulate her life to fit an image is a familiar trope in coming of age movies, but the movie wisely chooses to focus on Margaret’s growth away from Nancy without any big comeuppance moments, at least nothing publicly humiliating. They simply shift the focus away from Nancy. The friendship fades as the girls grow up and that’s pretty realistic.
At the end of the movie, Margaret embraces her joy – from connecting with a boy she likes to returning to camp. Her mother also embraces her true self, shedding all efforts to conform to suburban ideals, and finds contentment.
I loved that the movie diversified the characters, but it was noticeable that several characters are suddenly Black and yet no mention of racial injustice. In a movie exploring religion so intimately, this rang false to me. It also felt flat that Margaret went to church with Nancy, Janie, Gretchen, and Laura (sort-of) but didn’t talk with them or their families about their relationships with God.
I debated revisiting the book, but I prefer to let this retro take on Margaret remain freshest in my mind. Kids need media that explores puberty experiences. The book and movie are set circa 1970, the year I was born, so it was familiar to me but not reflective of my own experiences.
My memories of puberty – from ‘the talk’ to the onset of my own menstruation at age 13 – were far from exuberant and joyful like Margaret and her friends. I was very confused in 1982 by the concept of a sanitary napkin and belt, having to figure that out on my own. And I didn’t feel grown up. I felt burdened.
But Margaret helped me feel less alone.
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