Documentary Joyfully Celebrates Esteemed Author’s Life & Impact [Sundance]
Feb 11, 2023
Few writers have as much of a hold on adults’ childhood selves as Judy Blume. Even if you’ve never read her books, her impact, especially with her most influential novels decades ago, is felt in how YA fiction is laid out today. She set the standard on how to write books for kids that weren’t condescending. In her iconic novels, the author doesn’t talk down to kids but instead, goes into their very thoughts and life troubles. Judy Blume created work that helps young people make sense of life and their bodies in a way that writers weren’t doing in children’s novels at that time. And “Judy Blume Forever” documents her trajectory from an inquisitive child, to a suburban housewife, to a star novelist.
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Directors Davina Pardo (“116 Cameras,” “Very Semi-Serious”) and Leah Wolchok (“Very Semi-Serious”) successfully move through Blume’s life with the help of the author herself. The documentary dives into every important period of her life and pieces together how it all fits into the creation of her books and into the narrative of Judy Blume herself. It paints a picture of a bright and vibrant woman with a calming disposition, making it quite clear why so many kids saw her as their own personal confidant.
Again, Blume is one of the most well-known authors and holds a very special place in people’s lives or minds due to the fact that she writes children’s novels so memorably. Not only does she get into the mind of a 12-year-old to write from such a relatable perspective, but she also writes about things that we were all thinking or wondering about as pre-teens but never talked about. “Taboo” topics like masturbation, puberty, periods, and sex were things that were either taught to us in a way that made us fearful of it all or ashamed of it. “Judy Blume Forever” shows how she changed the landscape of YA novels, writing novels for children that don’t handle them with “kid gloves.” Instead, she writes novels that acknowledge kids’ desire to know things, much like how she was dying to know adults’ secrets as a young girl.
The documentary also does a superb job of showcasing how Blume’s work normalized women’s pleasure. Girls explore their bodies just like boys do, but the way the media treated this up until Blume’s work was to vilify it. Blume wanted to write books that not only destigmatized it but also allowed women to be as loud and funny as they are, according to the author herself. She allowed girls to take up space when they were — and still are — encouraged to be small and weary of themselves and the power they hold.
The documentary, of course, covers her biggest hits, like “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret,” which is getting a film adaptation starring Rachel McAdams. It also takes a long look at “Forever…” a novel that she wrote for kids about two kids who fall in love and have sex. It went into detail about these characters’ first sexual experiences, leading to the novel getting banned from several libraries and making it a big topic of conversation. “Deenie” is another book they cover that debuted to people calling it “the masturbation book,” when really it wasn’t about that at all.
The core heart of the film is purely Judy Blume. It features original testimonials and interviews with Blume specifically filmed for this documentary, along with past talk show appearances and family photographs. “Judy Blume Forever” never forgets the main point of its narrative, which is the author. Interspersed throughout the movie are also interviews with famous creatives such as Samantha Bee (“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”), Lena Dunham (“Girls”), Anna Konkle (“PEN15”), and several others. But some of the most heartfelt moments in the movie involve interviews with adult women who wrote to Blume when they were 12 or 13. It makes the correspondence Blume had with kids who felt seen by her work more tangible. There’s a story about a woman who wrote back and forth with Blume and asked her to come to her college graduation; Blume did. Another heartbreaking instance involved a woman who initially wrote about her brother’s suicide but then revealed a darker secret to Blume. The author acted as not only a confidant for children like these but also a resource and someone who looked out for them. The documentary also touches on how that mentally impacted Blume, and not always in a healthy way.
“Judy Blume Forever” handles Blume’s life, work, and impact with such care and never downplays her achievements. It features whimsical paper art illustrations throughout the film that encompasses the childlike stories she wrote and the positive effect she had and continues to have. The interview sets are bright, and there’s just a sense of cheerfulness and joy that the documentary comes with. It really is a celebration of Judy Blume. There are tough subjects they cover, but you ultimately leave the movie feeling really touched by her work and the compassion she has for her readers and fans, even if you’ve never read her novels. [B+]
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