How Lionsgate has sold a long-awaited coming-of-age adaptation
There are few authors more beloved and legendary than the great Judy Blume, and this week one of her best-known works comes to the big screen with Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Abby Ryder Fortson stars as Margaret, the centerpiece of the story. Margaret is the daughter of Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and Herb (Benny Safdie) and has just been moved by them from New York to the suburbs of New Jersey. That comes at the same time she’s questioning everything about her life, from religion to friends, and as she’s getting older and having new experiences that were unimaginable just a short while ago. Kathy Bates also costars as Sylvia, Margaret’s grandmother who has remained behind in New York City.
The movie is written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig and retains the 1960s/70s setting of the original book so let’s look at how Lionsgate has sold this adaptation of a perennial favorite, which for decades was also one of the most frequently challenged at libraries because it deals with puberty and related topics.
announcements and casting
Things started off in a big way when Lionsgate announced in March of 2020 it had acquired the rights to the book after a significant bidding war given how long Blume held back those rights. Nearly a year later Fortson and McAdams were announced as leading the cast. Bates and Safdie joined shortly after that.
McAdams was given the Vanguard Award at CinemaCon 2022, speaking there about what audiences could expect when the movie hit theaters.
the marketing campaign
It was mid-January when the marketing campaign kicked off with the release of the trailer (19.3m YouTube plays). It starts off by reminding everyone just how iconic the source book is and how we’re finally getting a big-screen version. After we meet Margaret we see just how difficult her preteen life is at the moment and how she yearns to just be normal, something no 11 year old is. Her parents are doing the best they can to not completely embarrass her but they’re dealing with their own stuff. So Margaret tries to make friends and fit in while navigating the increasingly complicated world around her.
Lionsgate brought much of the cast and crew, including Blume and producer James L. Brooks, to events celebrating the launch of that trailer in New York City and Los Angeles. A new movie-themed cover for the novel was also revealed at that time.
The poster that came out shows Margaret all on her own, standing against a wall and looking to the heavens for answers. Along with that visual are lots of reminders about the book’s cultural status and that the movie comes from the director of The Edge of Seventeen to help solidify its coming-of-age credentials.
Another poster was released at the end of February that expands the focus to include not only Margaret but also her mother and grandmother, the earlier generations of women who will help Margaret figure out her own situation.
There was a major push in early March to coincide with International Women’s Day. On social media fans were asked to share their own #MargaretMoments and a bus tour took place in New York City to bring the movie to the general public.
Craig did the majority of the press in this phase of the campaign, appearing on podcasts and doing other Q&As to talk about the responsibility of handling such precious material, working with the cast and more. Blume was out there talking about finally allowing the story to be told on film and giving the finished product her seal of approval, which isn’t nothing.
The author was even included in Variety’s Power of Women feature reflecting on her career and continuing to hype the movie. Later on she was named to Time’s list of 2023’s most influential individuals.
With less than a month to go before release Lionsgate started prompting people to share musical memories.
A handful of early screening events, many with some combination of Craig, Blume, McAdams, Fortson and others in attendance, were held in cities across the country to help build word of mouth.
A fun little video of Marge Simpson sharing her own memories of reading the book came out in early-April, no doubt the result of James L. Brooks being one of the producers of the movie.
An early screening event was announced in early April and scheduled for a week before the film’s general release.
Brooks took part in a roundtable with the other major players where Blume recounts why she finally felt her book would be in good hands with this team.
TV spots started running in earnest around this time, many like this one that used footage from the trailer but also added in some scenes previously unseen in the campaign.
The first clip shows the moment Margaret learns she’s moving from her childhood home out to New Jersey. Another features the scene of Margaret and her mother going shopping for her first bra.
Craig wrote in Empire about the experience adapting Blume’s book and why she felt so passionate about the project. There were also stories about how Blume is so legendary for addressing periods at a time when they were not widely discussed and on how Craig tackles the subject for the movie.
The studio marketing department mocked up some fun faux advertisements for things like “the telephone” and training bras using stills from the film.
The official gold carpet premiere was held in Los Angeles last week with the cast and other players in attendance.
There were additional interviews with Craig and profiles of McAdams, the latter focusing in part on how it’s been a minute since the actor had a juicy role to really dig into. Fortson was also profiled twice about the movie and how it’s a big deal for such a role to be her on-screen introduction. There were even a couple stories about the long-running attempts to pull the books from libraries.
Much like the screenings, the cast and crew appeared in various grouping on talk shows to hype up the movie and encourage fans to not worry their beloved book has been ruined.
As hinted at above, it’s so good to see McAdams in a role allowing her to be as good as she actually is, unlike her MCU appearances. And there is no bad when it comes to Bates and others in the cast.
Blume has to be commended for going out so frequently to help sell the movie and settle any audience concerns about the book being ruined by the filmmakers. That’s a big deal given her status in popular culture and how important she’s been to generations of young (and old) readers of any gender.
What keeps rattling around in my head, though, is that the movie is coming out at a time when shady rightwing astroturf organizations masquerading as parents’ groups around the country are trying to get books pulled from library shelves. Today it’s about “woke” subject matter like slavery, gender identity etc, but for decades it was books about puberty that didn’t gloss over the topic, especially when it was girls’ stories being told.
So it’s a good time to remember that not only are stories like this important, but that they’re important for everyone to read, which is why libraries in general are so vital in how they provide free access to books of all kinds to everyone.
picking up the spare
More from Craig about her personal connection to the story and the material included in it as well as the pressure of creating a new version of something so beloved.
Fortson appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about this, her first movie. And Blume appeared on “The Tonight Show” to continue promoting the film.