In the past few months, Judy Blume has seen a spike in publicity. The author has been promoting the trailer for the first adaptation of her classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; she revealed that she once ate an entire Entenmann’s crumb cake in one sitting; and she’s now heading to Sundance. It’s like the release of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing all over again! Right? I wouldn’t know, I wasn’t there.
But Judy Blume Forever, a doc profiling the author premiering at this year’s Sundance, sure makes everyone feel like they were among the front lines of teens buying her most famous books when they came out in the ’70s.
Judy Blume Forever brings together all kinds of Blume readers to spotlight just how timeless the author has become. Famous folks like Lena Dunham and Anna Konkle share how Blume informed the portrayal of women’s sexuality on their TV shows (Girls and Pen15, respectively), for instance. But there are also appearances from lesser-known authors, who spill on how the novelist informed their careers. Readers who have been writing notes to Blume for decades chime in on how her responses affected their lives forever; later on, kids of the 21st century share that they’re reading Judy Blume books too, nearly 50 years later.
“This book, um, actually can help me with puberty,” says a tiny pre-teen boy, as he shows off his 2022 copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. This says it all: Judy Blume is for everyone, no matter their gender, generation, or age. The doc has divine timing, too’ it’s releasing on Prime Video this spring, as the first film adaptation of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret hits theaters. Side by side, the films will surely be a nostalgic overload—but nostalgic in a caring, tender way, not the “we’re giving you eight reboots of a show you watched when you were 12” way.
Watching Judy Blume Forever feels a lot like the experience of witnessing Fred Rogers’ life play out on-screen in the doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which premiered at Sundance five years ago. Just like you didn’t have to have been a huge Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fan to enjoy that doc, you don’t need to have read every single book in the Fudge series to be charmed by Judy Blume Forever. It’ll help if you’ve read the hits—and if you haven’t read Margaret, get on it!—but the doc will convince you to read every other novel in her collection anyways. I’ve already placed a hold on Wifey at my local library.
Blume herself is front and center in the doc, and although we get to meet her kids and husband, she tells her own story. Unlike the archetypal novelist—guarded, isolated, nerdy, writes alone, etc.—Blume was always a social butterfly. Growing up, she was popular, excelled in school, went on to attend NYU, and soon after, she was married with kids. Judy Blume Forever doesn’t gloss over these details, per se; the doc expertly speeds through her early life to paint us a good picture of a witty young woman, so that we can get to the juicy part of the story. Tell us about writing the books, Judy!
Watching Judy walk through her writing process on some of the most beloved works of fiction is like marveling at a Great British Baking Show pastry chef, as they feather whipped chocolate frosting onto a fluffy cake. Comfort doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling. Paired with archival footage of her talk show appearances as a younger author, the novelist explains why she writes from children’s point of view, why it’s important to talk about subjects like masturbation and periods, and how her books’ ideas relate to her own life. Though Blume clearly knows how important her novels are, as any intelligent person would, she buries her ego. She’s grateful to have made an impact on readers, young and old alike, not worried about her status of her legacy .
The doc doesn’t hold her to high degree, either, elegantly portraying Blume as a monumental figure without heralding her as the most wise, completely timeless author. She’s made mistakes, too. Several authors agree that some of her material hasn’t withstood the test of time, especially pointing out how she upholds the gender binary in her novels.
Still, the doc asserts that there’s no need to remove them from widespread circulation because of the archaic ideas. To acknowledge this change in societal norms, instead of pushing it under the rug or deem her books not suitable for 2023, is a mature decision for the doc to make.
Plus, Judy Blume Forever has a larger point to make other than just walking through Blume’s life and career. Near the end of the film, Blume details her involvement with the National Coalition Against Censorship, after several of her books (like Margaret, Forever…) were removed from school library shelves around the country during the Reagan administration. While her books continue to be banned by some libraries, Blume fights against censorship of her novels (and those of other authors—like Gossip Girl writer Cecily von Zeigesar, who speaks about Blume’s efforts in this doc) to allow young people to learn about puberty and sex.
One of the best segments veers from Blume’s novels and into her more personal writing, exploring the letters she exchanged with her fans over the years. The author sifts through a box of her letters, all still perfectly intact and sorted into file folders, her face lighting up at a few names she remembers. It’s delightful—not just for the fact that Blume has taken the time to return letters to her readers, attending their graduations and helping them work through personal struggles, but also because the doc finds new ways to examine Blume’s connection to her readers.
Near the beginning of the doc, Blume says she always hated when adults kept secrets from her as a child. So, she set out to enlighten every young reader about the realities of the world. She’s like everyone’s third grade teacher—cracking open a Judy Blume book is like tearing into a fresh set of Crayola markers on the first day of school.
Judy Blume Forever makes us feel the same way by taking us through Blume’s life and the creation of her most beloved stories, while elaborating upon why the novels have had such an impact on so many generations—and, most importantly, how we can protect the books for future generations to read.
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