James L. Brooks Warned Judy Blume Not to Trust Hollywood. She Still Let Him Produce a Movie of ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’
To get the chance to make a movie of Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” producer James L. Brooks and writer and director Kelly Fremon Craig made the pilgrimage to the beloved author’s home in Key West, Fla.
“I spent most of our time with Judy warning her about Hollywood and all the things it will do to you — basically, I warned her about folks like me,” says Brooks, the Oscar-winning director of “Terms of Endearment” and the co-creator of “The Simpsons” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
More from Variety
Judy Blume Talks Censorship With 16-Year-Old Bookstore Owner: 'It's People Like You Who Give Us Hope'
'Judy Blume Forever': How to Watch the Heartwarming Doc Online
'Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret' Review: An Appealing but Edgeless Adaptation of a Coming-of-Age Classic
Blume chose not to heed the admonition. By the end of their sit-down, Brooks, Craig and Blume’s husband George were all hugging. The film rights were theirs. It turns out Brooks and Craig had an ace up their sleeve: Blume had loved their collaboration “The Edge of Seventeen,” a sensitively drawn look at a teenager navigating the minefield of high school while processing her dad’s death. It’s a coming-of-age tale that’s similar to “Are You There God?,” which depicts the challenges and mortifications of being on the cusp of puberty. On April 28, fans of the book will get to see how successfully Craig, Brooks and their collaborators pulled it off when the Lionsgate release opens in theaters.
Before cameras rolled, the filmmakers were clear that they weren’t interested in transplanting the story, first published in 1970, to the TikTok era.
“It felt wrong to not have it in the ’70s,” says Julie Ansell, producer and president of motion pictures at Brooks’ company Gracie Films. “Modernizing it by throwing in cellphones and social media would have muddled everything. We’re talking about puberty and everything that comes with it, and that’s timeless.”
Even the most faithful adaptation wouldn’t have worked if the filmmakers hadn’t found the right actress to bring Margaret in all her funny, awkward, ever-questioning glory to life. They auditioned hundreds of girls before booking Abby Ryder Fortson, of the “Ant-Man” movies, for the title role.
“There is something about Margaret as a character — she reacts a lot and doesn’t talk as much,” says Ansell. “When you watch Abby’s face, you just know what she’s feeling. She’s alive.”
To Brooks, the movie also offers an overlooked perspective on the rocky transition into young adulthood. “It may be the most female movie ever made,” he says. “Particularly in terms of the content. There are so many rites-of-passage movies for boys. This one is for women.”
Brooks loves working with Craig and protecting her vision as a producer, but he hasn’t stepped behind the camera since 2010’s “How Do You Know.” That’s changing. He’s developing a script and expects to be in pre-production this fall. Is it a comedy or a drama?
“I wouldn’t classify it,” he says. “But at its core it’s a woman’s story.”
Best of Variety
This 'Fast and Furious' Arcade Cabinet Allows You to Step Behind the Wheel as Dom Toretto
From 'The Shards' to 'Daisy Jones & The Six': Books Made Into Movies and TV Series That You Should Read
Emmy Predictions: TV Movie - 'Prey' the TV Academy Nominates the Outstanding 'Predator' Franchise Film
Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.