Friday, April 28, 2023

'Margaret' grows up sweetly; 'Peter Pan & Wendy' not so memorably

"Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" arrives today based on the "classic" bestseller by iconic author Judy Blume, and how can we ever forget? That is, at least according to the opening barrage of women -- some of them recognizable -- who offer what seems like a never-ending tribute to the book and how much it meant to them back in the early '70s.

Thank goodness the close-to-cringe-inducing salute finally ends, and a movie begins that almost lives up to their hype. Just remember, though, that they were talking about the written word, and maybe the different media twains actually might not meet.

That they do mostly becomes the result of another tender telling from Kelly Fremon Craig, the then-first-time filmmaker who gave us the smartly terrific, yet still likely underseen "The Edge of Seventeen" in 2016.

Just as that coming-of-age comedy delivered a perfectly pitched, lead performance from Hailee Steinfeld, Fremon Craig's sweet, 11-year-old "Margaret" earns the same treatment here from Abby Ryder Fortson. Already a longtime child star, the teen simply shines as the kind of genuine sixth grader anyone might want to emulate or call a friend, although our heroine's own typical insecurities find her looking for significant help from above during a charming assortment of one-way conversations.

An equally adorable if put-upon Mom (the radiant Rachel McAdams) and lovable (uh, to a pushy point) Grandma (Kathy Bates) lead an ensemble that sparkles along with the standalone, era-heavy screenplay. Who knows? Perhaps a few men actually even might relate to the universal anxieties and surprises discovered on the edges of becoming a teen. Well, at least some of 'em.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: thematic matter involving sexual ed and some suggestive material; 1:45; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Also opening today -- but only on Disney+ -- is the good-looking "Peter Pan & Wendy," with director/co-writer David Lowery seeking to find something new to tell about the boy who refuses to grow up. (I mean, it's not like most of us haven't seen or heard the story what seems like a hundred times before, anyway.)

Well, then, how 'bout if we give the girl in the title a similar challenge by starting the story with her reluctance to leave a comfortable home and properly British family for boarding school? Yes, sure, Wendy Darling (the capable Ever Anderson in this live-action piece) always has been a solid young lady in previous versions, so let's beef up her role and let Peter (alarmingly low-key newcomer Alexander Molony) just worry about Captain Hook (the not-so-threatening Jude Law).

By the way, we might as well write a back story for the villainous Hook, create a bigger role for ever-helpful Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk), too, and probably tinker with the Lost Boys in a way that will not be disclosed right now.

Truthfully, when all is said and done, I miss the magic from J.M. Barrie's original story, not to mention Disney's 1953 animated feature, and many others, including TV's oft-shown 1960 classic with the fab Mary Martin as Peter. A little more pixie dust, please.

Rated "PG" by MPAA: violence, peril and thematic elements; 1:46; $ $ and/ 1/2 

Also opening today in theaters: "Big George Foreman," "Lucky Louie," "Polite Society," "Showing Up," And "Sisu." Streaming: "AKA" (Netflix) and "Clock" (Hulu).

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