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Margaret and Goliath 

click to enlarge When the verdict dropped.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret

When the verdict dropped.

It should be abundantly clear I don't participate much in the cultural conversation, at least not in any meaningful, modern way. The Editor has gone so far as to say I'm too much a recluse to qualify as an internet troll. Yet, rumblings and fragments of messages still filter through the roof of my bunker occasionally, among them a great many teary retweets and hand-wringing echoes expressing a wave of woe among the ever-more taciturn Marvel faithful. Whatever Deathstar phase the MCU entered recently has apparently been the source of great rancor and concern. This, of course, is really of no concern to me, beyond the sadistic thrill I get from fan-bros being made sad because their favorite trillion-dollar confection isn't macho enough anymore; I'm gleefully paraphrasing and misrepresenting, one will note.

It's difficult to imagine the nearly immeasurable glut of Marvel "content" to which we've been exposed — read: subjected — in the last 15 (!) years does not play a critical role in the recent backlash (or simple cooling of ardor) the studio experienced on the release of Eternals or Thor: Love and Thunder; how much is too much, after all? But the more insidious, equally likely force at play concerns the expanding of the MCU's inclusiveness in its themes and its creatives. Seems beyond coincidence that, as states continue to dehumanize female humans, block access to books and criminalize drag performance, movies that embrace or even just include those people and subjects would be met with a lukewarm response from the self-destructive, neo-fascist, violence-worshiping bulk of their intended audience. Culture, meet culture; I'll be outside.

Admittedly, this is all pearl clutching of its own stripe; I am nothing if not guilty of that. In my precarious defense, though, I've been complaining about the Marvel juggernaut for too long to remember, about its dour tone and antiseptic uniformity of aesthetic. What I perhaps failed to anticipate was the broad-based passion/mania with which the movies were being consumed, that a mass conversion event was taking place, whereby a wholesale investment in artistic monoculture was reshaping not only the cinematic distribution landscape but also the fundamental tenets of collective critical thinking. There was, it must be said, also that recent and ongoing plague that made a great many of us literally but admittedly insane, perhaps permanently.

More to the point, if there is one, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 just opened and the hopes of the fandom seem to hang heavy upon it. They need it to be a return to form, a success to rival ... name almost any Marvel movie, because without that ... shudder to think. I haven't seen the thing and I may or may not. But the departure it represents interests me, due to both my aforementioned glee regarding the MCU mob and the fact that it will purportedly be, after a lot of "will they or won't they" and canceling and all of that, writer/director/producer James Gunn's last movie for Marvel before he heads off of to correct course for DC Comics own moribund movie branch. Although the other Guardians movies are still subject to the homogenization and gloom that troubles the MCU, Gunn was still able to inject some of his hair-metal, Troma self into the mix, lending them a space-trash kookiness into which Marvel would have been smart to lean (obviously I'm in the minority with that opinion). Further, I became an unlikely, almost unwitting fan of his Peacemaker series, so I guess I'm hopeful that in his new role, he'll be able fiddle as Rome burns, but, you know, in a good way.

We've so far followed a long, contrarian path: discussing a movie I haven't seen in light of greater cultural maladies, but I suppose that's what we (read: I) do around here. And to bring it home, I'll make a few remarks about the movie I did see, perhaps the precise opposite and, depending on temperament, perfect antidote to matters of Marvel and the world at large.

ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET arrives as part of a shockingly late-coming Judy Blume revival (the documentary Judy Blume Forever also debuted recently) and feels like a forceful, if gentle and slightly silly, statement of purpose to a civilization bent on erasure and myopia.

I dipped into the Blume canon as a kid but never made it to Are You There God? Still, it was (and remains) very much a part of the zeitgeist, a near-universal reference point and shorthand for girls growing up. It's a simple story about Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) moving from New York City to the suburbs of New Jersey with her parents (Rachel McAdams and Benny Safdie) in 1970. The tricky thing about this material, though, at least in terms of adapting it for the screen, is that, for one thing, the weight of Hollywood doesn't get thrown behind these things anymore. For another, it is exceedingly difficult to cast and then direct young actors to performances with the level of emotional variability and fullness innate to pre-teens in the real world. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig, under the aegis of the legendary James L. Brooks, has done just that, though and, as such, made a movie that transcends the easy dismissal to which young adult adaptations are frequently subjected. Not a lot happens in the course of the movie (measured by normal plot-point requirements) but for 12-year-old Margaret, everything is happening. And without over-dramatizing the mundane, gigantic events of her life, Fremon Craig recreates the delicious, impossible feeling of growing up, of trying and failing to figure things out, that is, regardless of circumstance, universal. Are You There God? refuses to talk down to its subject or its audience and it feels like a quietly powerful act of protest. PG13. 105M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed due to earthquake damage. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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