Synopsis: Judy Blume and the generations of readers who have sparked to her work. It will examine her impact on pop culture and the occasional controversies over her frankness about puberty and sex.
Stars: Judy Blume, Lena Dunham, Molly Ringwald, Anna Konkle, Samantha Bee, Mary H.K. Choi, Jacqueline Woodson
Directors: Davina Pardo & Leah Wolchok
Running Length: 97 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: God bless Judy Blume. Seriously. Where would many of us be without her books to help us through one of the many unknown, awkward, and traumatic events we experienced growing up? Through her fiction, we could make sense of our reality, even if we didn’t match up with the characters in her book completely. Slivers of everyone could be found in the worlds she created; if it wasn’t us we saw, it was our family or friends. The eyes and hearts she opened expanded minds and introduced millions of children and young adults to reading, exploring, questioning, and finding their autonomy over the years. What a gift.
The new documentary Judy Blume Forever, debuting on Prime Video on April 21, covers the career of Blume from her beginning as a housewife and mother, drafting picture books and short novels from an outside perspective. Told she could pursue this career as long as it didn’t interfere with her responsibilities in the home, Blume realized her strongest writing was when she was taking a point of view from a younger character and not looking inward. By telling the story from the inside out, she was able to get at the emotional core of her characters as few niche authors could, and her books became hot commodities for kids and hot topics for parents and the media looking for easy targets.
Tackling subjects once thought to be too mature for teens (menstruation, masturbation, sex, bullying, disabilities, etc.), Blume could speak without sugar-coating but still make it easy to access emotionally. Directors Davina Pardo & Leah Wolchok use historic interviews with Blume and new discussions with the author today to get to the heart of her approach and how her early childhood influenced the sensitive writer she became. Losing her devoted father early and being raised by a mother who doled out her sentiments sparingly, Blume grew up learning key details about her body and the world outside of her home. Blume’s recollections of these events are (like her entire interview) relayed with remarkable candor, her eyes sparkling, sometimes misty.
When the time came to write books like ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’, ‘Deenie’, ‘Blubber’, ‘Forever’, and ‘Tiger Eyes’, she drew not just on the gaps she experienced as a teen but through the issues she was learning about from her growing children. Now, teens could find relatable characters sharing the same concerns on the shelf of their local (or school) libraries. That is, if the protests from parents and personnel that didn’t understand how helpful the novels were didn’t get them banned first. I was always shocked that no one had the tiniest bit of trouble when the infamous toddler Fudge swallowed a turtle in the 1972 classic ‘Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing’. (Anyone else think they were the Fudge in their family? As an only child, I was him by default.)
Interviewing dozens of celebrities, authors, grown adults who wrote to Blume as children, and other figures involved in publishing novels for teens, Pardo and Wolchok sketch out the authority Blume became in their adolescence and the literary world. I’ve seen enough celebrity talking head docs already that those didn’t move me as much as meeting the individuals that have corresponded to Blume for decades. Hearing them read their letters out loud (and seeing Blume read the originals from the archives she donated to Yale University) is the film’s highlight. Well, that and seeing Blume in full bloom biking around her current home city of Key West and tending to her bookstore. It’s enough to make you want to plan a visit and, as we witnessed with other fans many times during Judy Blume Forever, see her in person and thank her for all she’s done to help us like ourselves more.