THE STORY – Generations of readers have found themselves in a Judy Blume book. Her name alone launches a flood of memories for anyone who’s gripped one of her many paperbacks. For decades, Blume’s radical honesty has comforted and captivated readers — and landed her at the center of controversy for her frankness about puberty and sex. Now the beloved American author candidly shares her own coming-of-age story.
THE CAST – Judy Blume
THE TEAM – Davina Pardo & Leah Wolchok (Directors/Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 97 Minutes
Almost every girl in America grew up with the guidance of Judy Blume. For many, her book, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” was a childhood classic, and not just a “fun” work of fiction to read in one’s pastime, but also a tool for navigating the treacherous waters of adolescence, tackling almost all of a young woman’s anxieties, from periods to bras, and, last but certainly not least, boys. As Blume’s readers grew, her subject matter also matured, aligning with the issues most meaningful to her audience at that time. However, tackling more serious subject matter meant exposing herself to the ire and enmity of conservative America, who viewed her education and sexual empowerment of adolescent women as improper and even immoral. For over fifty years, Blume has fought against these bad-faith readings of her work, and though now, in the year of our Lord 2023, she has managed to (mostly) come out on top, censorship remains a significant concern as puritanism rears its ugly head once more, reminding us why the story and dogged work of Judy Blume remains relevant to this day and is always worth repeating.
Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok’s “Judy Blume Forever” sets out to be a comprehensive documentary covering all of Blume’s life and work thus far, beginning — literally — at her birth and walking us through almost all her major novels and the pushback they faced at the time of their release. If you’re already a big fan of Blume’s, you might not think much of this is new. But, if you only have a surface-level idea of who she is and what she has given to young women and American literature as a whole, “Judy Blume Forever” is an endlessly inspiring and insightful watch; and, even if this isn’t all revolutionary information to some, it’s such an authentically openhearted ode to the iconic author that it’s well worth your time anyway to revisit her distinguished career and her badass battles against the malicious conservative media. Some of the most remarkable scenes in the film replay these battles directly, demonstrating the daring determination Blume had when holding her ground against those who would seek to misrepresent her or her work, especially at a time — the 1980s — when progress and equality were not the primary concerns of many in this country.
Assessing almost all her novels one by one, “Judy Blume Forever” underscores how subtly revolutionary Blume was, rarely drawing attention to her integration of “important” issues and, instead, simply slipping them through everyday actions and conversations, as they should be. Something like “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” — arguably her most famous novel — deals with these issues more “head-on,” but a book like “Deenie” (which follows a pre-teen girl whose plans to become a model are put in jeopardy when she’s diagnosed with scoliosis) came under fire for one casual line about Deenie’s masturbation, which was never a major part of the plot, yet found itself singled out by conservatives who used it as reasoning for why the entire thing should be banned. And, while a book like “Blubber” deals directly with the bullying and ostracization of an overweight adolescent, Blume looks at the little ways in which we all contribute to these behaviors, even the ways we may not initially think are “bad.” “Forever…,” one of Blume’s most adult novels, is similar in centering its entire story around the loss of a teenage girl’s virginity but also building a life for its protagonist outside of this event and showing her to be more than her sexuality, while simultaneously demystifying this “event.”
Perhaps the most affecting addition to this documentary is its resonant tribute to the relationships Blume formed with her readers, both figurative and literal. It’s incredibly touching to see women from all walks of life chime in with how Blume’s work impacted them as adolescents. It’s even more illuminating to watch how Blume directly involved herself in the lives of some readers who wrote for her, once even attending the graduation of one fan when her parents weren’t there to support her. It’s this extra empathy Blume exhibited both in real life and her writing that earned her the iconic status she enjoys today, and it’s crucial to why her work endures all these years later; and, if nothing else, you’ll walk away from “Judy Blume Forever” fully aware of this fact. One would expect a biographical documentary to provide a broad overview of its subject’s life and all they’ve accomplished thus far, but “Judy Blume Forever” goes a step further by making Judy Blume’s sheer importance to the art of literature and the world over undeniable and unignorable. It’s an essential artifact for any who used her words as a guiding light many years ago — and maybe, even to this day.