Since the late 1960s, readers of a certain age have been discovering and devouring Judy Blume’s books. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Blume’s breakout middle-grade novel, has taken up regular space on library and bookstore shelves since its release. That book, and many of the author’s others, has operated as the introduction to taboo topics for many young women (and men, if they’re being honest) — masturbation and sex, religion, divorce, and death, to name a few. This reviewer had a particular fondness for Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, a book in which Sally, a precocious 10-year-old Jewish girl, believes Adolf Hitler has moved into a neighboring Miami Beach apartment. And I wasn’t alone; as many celebrities, writers, and friends of Blume detail in Leach Wolchok and Davina Pardo’s new documentary Judy Blume Forever, her impact on the lives of children and adults over the last 50-plus years is almost unparalleled in the literary world.
Like Blume’s books, which packed these heavy topics into bite-sized, digestible pieces for young adults and children, Wolchok and Pardo’s film boasts a child-like quality. Throughout Judy Blume Forever, scenes of Blume reading selections of her writing are juxtaposed with talking heads from celebrities and fans, as well as Blume’s recounting of the real-life experiences that influenced much of her work. She reads about Sally J. Freedman fearing for her father’s death while describing her own father passing away when she was still young; her adult novel Wifey, about a woman in an unhappy marriage, was released just as Blume was divorcing her first husband.
Unlike the titular author’s books, however, Judy Blume Forever feels overly saccharine and artificial. Sure, her work has had a massive impact on these people’s lives, but the unending praise begins to tiptoe into sanctification and feels almost scripted by the end. The filmmakers also dedicate a large portion of Judy Blume Forever to the author reading correspondence from her readers, all of which she has kept throughout her career. This section proves to be the film’s most affecting thread, but it likewise can’t escape the sentimental shadow cast across the entire project. The only real conflict in the film comes when Blume discusses book banning, and the challenges she faced during the years of Reagan and the Moral Majority. The end of the film briefly juxtaposes that censorship to today’s political climate, but it ultimately foregoes depth and shies away from actually confronting or addressing the insidious motivations behind the attempted restrictions.
Blume is such an aggressively endearing presence that it makes the work of critiquing the film, which is so deeply rooted in her experience and personality, an unenviable task. There’s just something undeniably and overwhelmingly charming about an 85-year-old woman shouting, “Let’s raise our hands if we masturbate, everybody!” But at the same time, Blume is an 85-year-old woman, one who has lived a lot of life and isn’t without controversy (recent comments about supporting J.K. Rowling, for example). Judy Blume Forever, made with the full cooperation from Blume, wasn’t ever going to be the place for such critiques, but one can’t help but feel disappointed that a film tackling such a bold figure makes the timid decision to go the hagiographic route.
You can currently stream Judy Blume Forever on Amazon Prime.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 16.