four young girls with arms linked doing a chorus line kick against a background that says Congrats Graduates
Credit: Dana Hawley / Lionsgate

People have been condemning and praising Judy Blume’s 1970 young adult classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. since its publication. By the time I got my hands on it in 1971 (I was 11), it was already being targeted for banning, even as its popularity soared and Hollywood first started sniffing around for movie rights. 

It’s taken the ensuing decades for Blume to agree to an adaptation. And despite the presence of a winning mainstream movie, the multigenerational best-selling book remains in the crosshairs of those who—like those ad makers who depicted menstruation as a delicate Windex-blue waterfall trickling delicately onto a snow-white sanitary pad—think periods are gross and shameful. As my mother used to tell me, if men bled from their penises every month while feeling like someone was taking a pitchfork to their internal reproductive area, you better believe there’d be more public light on the subject.

Like the book, the Lionsgate movie offers a gently informative, often hilarious, and always empathetic depiction of a sixth grader yearning for, getting, and celebrating her first period. With an astonishingly effective Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret in an adaptation by Blume and Kelly Fremon Craig (Craig also directs), the 1970s-set movie captures all the warmth, joy, and turmoil of the book.

Watching a prepubescent, never-been-kissed preteen playing “Two Minutes in the Closet” with her grade’s self-styled player is at once horrifying, hilarious, and eminently familiar. Watching Margaret navigate the mean girls who draft her into their supersecret club is the same (bras required, socks banned). The junior high torment of Laura Danker (a memorable Isol Young)—that one girl in the school who got boobs and height long before any of her peers, boy or girl—is almost excruciating. 

Like the book, Margaret the movie is sunny and, ultimately, optimistic. Coming of age is never without trauma, but in Margaret’s case, there are mostly supportive (or trying to be, at least) parents and a godsend of a grandmother (Kathy Bates) to smooth the path. 

The film adaptation reflects some of the book’s later adjustments: It’s still set in the 1970s, but Margaret practices getting her period with adhesive pads rather than the elastic waist-to-crotch belt-like contraptions where pads the size of small bricks were threaded through loops under your belly button and over your rear end, an apparatus that made a target out of anyone trying to menstruate in anything like a gym uniform. Or, for that matter, a pair of pants. Margaret’s mother (Rachel McAdams) is more fleshed out as an artist, stifled by the family’s move from New York City to the New Jersey suburbs. 

Margaret’s journey, as in the book, ends with celebration. Would that the advent of all periods were treated as such. It’s time for a sequel. I’m thinking something along the lines of What the Fuck, God? Menopause?

PS Watch for Katherine Mallen Kupferer as Margaret’s friend Gretchen. Fun fact, Mallen Kupferer is the daughter of Tara Mallen, founder and artistic director of Chicago’s Rivendell Theatre, and Keith Kupferer, one of the best ensemble actors Chicago has seen in the past 25 years. PG-13, 105 min.

Wide release in theaters