By Greg Carlson
Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok’s “Judy Blume Forever” debuted at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in January and landed on Prime Video just ahead of the theatrical release this week of Kelly Fremon Craig’s highly anticipated adaptation of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”
The one-two punch lands as Republican-controlled states ramp up legislative attacks on trans rights, gender-affirming care, abortion access, and – in a return to familiar territory for Blume – libraries and the freedom of speech.
The hypocrites in the GOP claim to support less government regulation and more personal freedom and liberty, but practice the exact opposite when it comes to things like drag shows and the censorship of books.
Enter the heroic Blume, now 85 years old but as youthful and as vital as ever. For scores of us, Blume’s books were cherished road maps through the most confusing parts of adolescence.
Her sales numbers are staggering: more than 82 million copies and counting.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has identified the author as one of the most frequently challenged and several of her titles as regular targets of removal or ban. But Blume has persevered, decade after decade (the seismic, game-changing “Margaret” was published in 1970).
Interview subject Jason Reynolds states, “I don’t think that Judy Blume wrote her books to be timeless. I think she wrote her books to be timely. And they were so timely that they became timeless.”
That soundbite arrives near the very end of the movie in a short section that opens the door just a crack to some criticism of Blume’s books as “historical fiction” (dated details, reliably binary characters, moms that rarely work, etc.), although it’s quickly pointed out by YA historian and author Gabrielle Moss that those aspects of the stories would most certainly be different if written today.
But it is Blume’s barrier-busting embrace of taboo topics like menstruation and masturbation that, combined with her originality and voice, has endeared her to generations of young people as “one of us.”
The filmmakers include fantastic archival material, private and public, as Blume often makes witty asides (like the time she scorched Pat Buchanan on “Crossfire”).
Blume, who appears on camera front-and-center and gloriously reads key passages accompanied by lovely animation by Andrew Griffin and Martin O'Neill, is the star attraction, but Pardo and Wolchok enlist a small army of childhood friends, authors, family members, performers, publishers, and young readers to earnestly, and often eloquently, sing Blume’s praises.
The very best talking heads are Lorrie Kim and Karen Chilstrom, two superfans who wrote to Blume again and again, from childhood to adulthood. Kim and Chilstrom represent the thousands who form intense and often one-sided relationships to heroes/artists. But Blume always wrote back, and at one stunning moment, showed up.
Blume is so prolific that Pardo and Wolchok are forced to make hard choices. I think they succeeded, as many personal and literary milestones are marked by Blume herself, who indicates the variety of ways in which “It’s Not the End of the World,” “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” “Blubber,” “Deenie,” “Tiger Eyes,” “Wifey,” and “Forever …” were (and were not) cultivated from her own experiences.
“Forever,” which caused an uproar for presenting teenage sex without some kind of punishing consequence like pregnancy or death, is echoed in the title of the documentary. The word also works as a wish for Blume’s earthly longevity and the everlasting life of her bibliography.
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