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Judy Blume Forever ★★★



Directors: Davina Pardo, Leah Wolchok

Released: Sundance Film Festival 2023

She is a best-selling American author whose books helped to define the modern young adult novel. Her books such as Forever and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret are loved by audiences all around the world but have made her one of the most highly censored writers of the 21st century. Now, author Judy Blume is the subject of a new documentary, Judy Blume Forever, by Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchock.

With her wide smile and brightly coloured glasses, Blume presents herself as a cool aunt of sorts. She is candid in her struggles of conforming to being a 1960s housewife but found herself frustrated by the secrets that parents keep from their children such as sex and adulthood. While reminiscing about her childhood in the 1950s, an era of ‘pretend’ she whimsically recalls, Blume says: “I felt that parents kept secrets from their kids…I think I had to make up what those secrets were.” This forthrightness is evident in her works as she highlights a need to convey the realities of puberty and growing up in her books, especially when parents feel unable to relate to their children.

Amid the dream-like visuals of her books are snippets of celebrity fans such as Molly Ringwald and Lena Dunham fondly reminiscing about her books, highlighting the lifelong impact of her work. In addition, her ability to resonate with young fans is endearing to watch, especially as she can connect with children and teenagers of different nationalities. This shows that her stories and characters can bring solace to all audiences, as well as an impartial source of comfort, whether it is about divorce, belonging or just growing up. As the documentary progresses, her stance as the cool aunt shifts to agony aunt when we see her sift through decades of fan mail, which was acquired by Yale University, where readers talk to her openly about their problems – notably the ones that they cannot talk to their parents about. The filmmakers reinforce Blume’s significance to her fans by including two grown-up fans that have been writing to her since their youth, showing their mutual and invested interest in each others’ lives while normalising the idea that a hugely successful author can be as close as a confidant to a fan.

But it’s not all sweetness and smiles as the documentary explores the obstacles Blume has experienced as an author, more specifically censorship during the Reagan administration. Since her books included mentions of menstruation, masturbation and sex, she became a significant target as her works were banned from libraries – a practice that reached unprecedented levels in the USA last year. However, Blume brushes these concerns off and chooses to channel her efforts to campaign against banned books, allowing her need to be honest with her readers to shine through while shaping her as an outspoken activist against censorship.

Despite her success and activism, Judy Blume Forever falters when Blume reminisces about her relationships because certain details either feel out of place or unnecessary. Pardo and Wolchock try and bring a more rounded narrative around the author, which sees her recall her early life in New Jersey and her marriage after university. Although there are a smattering of sweet moments when she talks about inspiration from her children, as well as chats with old school friends, they are rushed through to accommodate another trip down memory lane so their personal resonance with Blume feels left out. In addition, the final 30 minutes feel like a notable conclusion as she talks about settling in Florida, yet her story doesn’t feel finished – giving audiences a hint that Blume’s happily ever after may not be The End, but a short break, so her narrative is To Be Continued…

Overall, Judy Blume Forever feels uneven in places but comprises a charming insight into an enigmatic author who is unafraid to speak her mind while daring to be honest with those who need it most.

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