Bailee Madison/Photo © Helga Esteb/Shutterstock
Welcome to Signature's Casting Call, where we exercise our creative muscles by focusing our attention on extraordinary characters from exceptional books - either fiction or nonfiction - and make the case for how we'd cast those roles if given the chance. Note that, here at Signature, we're not casting directors, nor are we producers, agents, or anyone else who has any say in how a film will be cast; we're simply ardent fans of books and movies who can't help ourselves from such musings.
Are you there Hollywood? It's us, Signature. It sure took you long enough to bring the work of the inimitable Judy Blume to the multiplex, but finally at seventy-five, the prolific poet laureate of preteen angst has her first big-screen movie adaptation. Based on her 1981 novel, Tiger Eyes, the story of seventeen-year-old Davey Wexler, whose family moves from Atlantic City to New Mexico after her father is murdered, hits theaters on June 7.
Don't get us wrong. We're grateful, Hollywood. We can't wait to see how Willa Holland ("Gossip Girl") takes on Davey's dark, emotionally wrought journey or how Blume along with her son, co-writer, and director, Lawrence (you might know him better as the inspiration for Fudge), translates the novel to the screen. But while you're in the Blume business, we'd like to suggest that you turn your attentions next to that quintessential YA novel, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
When it was first published in 1970, the story of Margaret, an almost-twelve-year old girl grappling with the big questions (religion and puberty), was groundbreaking in its candid, straightforward depiction of those awkward, turbulent years of preadolescence. After moving from New York City to the suburbs, Margaret, whose Christian mother and Jewish father are stringently raising her without religion, begins to question if God should be a part of her life, and if so, which God. And if this weren't enough for a girl who hasn't even hit junior high yet, she and her new friends the PTSs (that's Pre-Teen Sensations) are struggling with which boys to like, which bras to buy, and the inevitable excitement and anxiety about when they'll get their first periods.
Though it's been rumored to be in development for a big-screen treatment, with a very young protagonist and lots of interiority (all those monologues to God), Are You There God isn't a natural fit for film. But, hopefully recent star turns by kid actors in "Mud" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" have demonstrated to you, dear Hollywood, that the right youngin can carry a film on his or her small shoulders.
In case you're looking for casting suggestions, Hollywood, we have a few. We think Joey King, who took on that other nostalgic YA hero Ramona Quimby in "Ramona and Beezus," is pretty special, bringing an adorable madcap zeal to that role without overindulging in twee precocity. But King might have a bit too much gumption for the more subdued, introspective Margaret (she can play our protagonist's bossy neighbor Nancy). For our heroine, we'd go with thirteen-year-old Bailee Madison, who's also done YA adaptation duty as May Belle in "Bridge to Terabithia" and who won raves in the more grown-up "Brothers" and the horror flick "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," for which Roger Ebert praised the "pluck" and "intelligence" she brought to the role.
Madison also recently played opposite Bette Midler in the goofy family comedy "Parental Guidance," and we'd suggest that they reprise their grandmother-granddaughter relationship with the Divine Miss M playing Sylvia Simon, Margaret's divine paternal grandma, who disdains public transportation (too dirty), loves going to the symphony at Lincoln Center (for people watching), and who each year gets glamorously golden while wintering in Florida.
As Paul and Mary Hutchins, Margaret's maternal grandparents, estranged from her mother because she married outside of their faith, we suggest Ed Begley Jr. and Blythe Danner (an homage to her "Meet the Parents" role), both of whom have an innate likability that would allow us to empathize with these intensely problematic characters.
And as Barbara and Herbert Simon, Margaret's devoted but imperfect parents whose struggles with their own families have rendered them a little tentative and a lot anxious? May we suggest Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd, both of whom have kids in real life but rarely play parents on screen ("Mean Girls" and "This is 40" notwithstanding), and who would bring a perfect balance of high-strung, helicopter-parent comedic energy and grounded familial warmth to the screen.
Finally, as Mr. Benedict, Margaret's awkward, young teacher, straight out of ed school, we'd go for Adam Scott, who does well-intentioned awkwardness better than anyone.
So, that's our ideal cast. Now, are you there, readers? Tell us who'd star in your adaptation in the comments below.