February 5, 2023

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‘Judy Bloom Forever’ review: A colorful tribute to a legendary author

4 min read

There’s a lot of talk in popular culture these days about “sense of seeing”: finding our inner lives and particular identities reflected in art made by strangers who yet, it seems, know us all too well. It’s a perplexing kind of thrill – a recognition that our individual selves, so precious and special to us, are also intertwined with universal truths – and for many young readers in the last 50-odd years it’s first come to them through the Judy Bloom books. In “Judy Bloom Forever,” a lively, affectionate documentary tribute by filmmakers Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchock, nostalgia for that sense of formative discovery is balanced by a present-day exploration of Bloom’s enduring popularity, resonance and controversy, featuring the author’s presence with game storytelling, her eighties. The mid-decade is as brilliant as ever.

For any viewers who either forgot their connection to Bloom’s books or missed the boat in the first place, Doc’s mix of past and present interviews, talking-head tributes (from young YA authors and publishers, as well as celebrity fans like Lena) Dunham, Molly Ringwald and Samantha B) and brilliantly visualized readings make for a persuasive reminder. “Judy Bloom Forever” will launch on Amazon Prime Video in the spring — in clear time, with Kelly Fremon Craig’s much-anticipated adaptation of Bloom’s most famous novel, “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret,” hitting theaters in April.

“She knows what kids are and she knows what adults are,” says a teenage fan midway through archival footage from the 1970s, of a snaking bookstore queue of kids eager to meet Bloom at the height of her career. This sounds like something that should be true of all great children’s authors, yet it captures the trailblazing, still-rare appeal of her work, which presents both the social and sexual insecurities of teenagers with unusual recollection from a child’s in-the-moment perspective. , and the reassuring wisdom of an adult who’s been through it.

Amidst the sexual revolution and women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, Bloom’s outspoken youth discovering sexuality, questioning religion and tying their individuality to the broader progressive shift in adult sensibilities, not to speak of their demographics: “Let women masturbate, stay for empowerment, ” quips one interviewer, succinctly summing up Bloom’s command of the intimate and the political.

One might be surprised to imagine Bloom as a pious, bra-burning feminist of the era, but, given the Doctor’s rather poignant portrait of a young woman caught between strong domesticity and itchy rebellion, her calling to write is driven by her more repressed side. Straitless Upbringing in Postwar Suburban New Jersey. Talking us through her own life with droll wit and a hint of intelligence, Bloom describes how her love of books was instilled in her by her prim, unassuming mother, a woman who “worried about everything but what I was reading.” Discouraged by her mother from talking about feelings or personal matters—even after her father’s untimely death—the brilliant young woman’s knowledge of sex emerged from quiet discussions with friends. Studies at NYU were quickly followed by marriage to her first husband (like her mother, not one given to mental clarity) and the birth of her two children.

As a comfortable housewife in the 1960s, Bloom felt restless, destined for more, regarding her husband’s early attempts at writing as little more than a hobby. The publication of some minor work encouraged her to write “Margaret,” a radically mature exploration of the psyche of a teenage girl that put her on the map; Immediately following it with a similarly obvious but male-centric counterpoint, “Then again, maybe I won’t,” Bloom finds her gifts unlocked, given purpose. Psychedelically styled animated interludes on passages from his books reflect a sense of revelation to writers and readers alike. At the height of her career in 1975, Bloom left her husband—coincidentally or not, the year she published “Forever…”, her landmark novel depicting the agony, ecstasy, and culmination of a teenage sexual relationship—and lived Determined his own terms.

If “Judy Bloom Forever” serves in part as a study of a woman’s discovery of herself through the freedom to tell a story, it’s given a universally stirring dimension by an overemphasis on Bloom’s work as a correspondent to legions of fans — many of whom have felt enough by her books. It is understood that they wrote him deeply intimate, confessional letters in response to their own problems. Some of these children have become the author’s long-term penpals: Pardo and Olchok include two of them, Laurie Kim and Karen Chilstrom, in their interviews, and their testimonies about Bloom’s increasingly direct influence on their lives are among the film’s most moving and unexpected childhood sexual abuse of a relative. As a woman driven to suicidal thoughts by, Chilstrom in particular regards the author as a literal lifesaver: their relationship could be the focus of a documentary in itself.

Indeed, Bloom’s life, career and legacy prove more than ample material for this 98-minute doc, which moves through the author’s quick second marriage and enduring third, her warm but complicated relationship with her children, her best-selling but less celebrated works. of adult fiction, and most compellingly, his run-ins with the conservative moral guardians of Reagan’s America in the 1980s, who unsurprisingly added Bloom’s works to the list of books withdrawn from school libraries. If the subject still visibly angers this mild-mannered woman, it’s because she’s not over the fight, with the ban-book talk resurgent in the red state. What, he wonders, adults are so afraid of? Equally celebrating youthful experimentation and midlife renewal, “Judy Bloom Forever” strips its subject’s work of any dated aura of danger, inviting everyone to the party.

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