Judy Blume Forever
Sundance Film Festival Premieres Section/Amazon Studios
Reviewed for FilmFactual.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Davina Pardo, Leah Wolchok
Writer: Davina Pardo, Leah Wolchok
Screened at: Eccles Theater, Park City, UT, 1/24/23
Opens: January 21st (World Premiere)
The books a child reads are among the strongest contributors to the knowledge that they have. It has long been said by traditionalists that certain ideas are too “mature” for young children and that those concepts should not be introduced until they are able to properly process them. But the competing theory is that, the earlier kids are exposed to supposedly controversial themes, the more normalized they’ll become. One of the early adopters of that sentiment was Judy Blume, whose tremendously influential career is profiled in the warm and winning documentary Judy Blume Forever.
There isn’t just one formative work within Blume’s bibliography, but many fans cite Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret as the first they read. This film’s construction is endearing because it features numerous interviews with prominent authors, comedians, and filmmakers who share their own experiences growing up with Blume’s books. They cite her honesty and how her characters spoke to them, dealing with subjects like puberty and masturbation in a way that didn’t feel shameful but instead completely ordinary. Most describe it as a refreshing visibility they had never before encountered and which was most certainly not the standard when they were young.
Blume herself is now in her eighties and still full of energy, eager to reflect back on all that she’s accomplished. She remembers the early rejections and how her first husband allowed her to write only as long as if it didn’t interfere with her homemaker duties (that marriage didn’t last long). She describes the formative moments in which an important decision had to be made, like whether to include a curse word in her latest book since it would surely diminish a certain percentage of the potential readership. She also speaks lovingly of the many fan letters she received, including from two women who are interviewed in the film and share just how much her continued replies to their correspondence decades ago meant to them.
This film should prove equally accessible for those who considered Blume’s books indispensable when they read them as children and those who have never read a single one. Colorful illustrations are mixed with book covers and written excerpts to highlight memorable passages from her books or related letters, and Blume herself reads many of them. It’s worthwhile and informative to hear the way in which words and sentiments hit her now, and how much she has learned over the course of her career.
It’s also eye-opening to watch the evolution of Blume’s target demographic through changing themes and cover designs. Hearing from figures like Lena Dunham and Samantha Bee about the effect reading Blume had on them and shaped their writing and comedy is revealing, and things take a more serious and important turn when President Ronald Reagan’s election signals a call for books to be banned, including many by Blume. Her role as champion for all forms of expression is a central part of her identity, which encourages all to read and to shamelessly tell their own stories.
Directors Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok convey a deep respect for their subject, and it’s clear that Blume is a very willing participant in her own biography. She acknowledges her age, saying that she keeps calling herself old and knows that she may not have much time left, and she joyfully recalls many of her most significant accomplishments while also reflecting based on the painful obstacles she has faced. This portrait of Blume is winning and entertaining, and it’s hard not to find the author just as spectacular as her books.