Judy Blume Forever Is an Emotional Celebration of an Author and Her Impact

Movies Reviews Judy Blume
Judy Blume Forever Is an Emotional Celebration of an Author and Her Impact

If you’re of a certain age where the monthly Scholastic Book Club flyers being dropped on your school desk was akin to a spiritual moment, then Judy Blume is likely a formative figure in your growing up. Her books were a constant in the Club’s rotation, thriving way past their release date cycle to welcome generations of young readers into a life-long love of reading. She had an amazing array of entry points to her work too. For all genders, there were Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1972), Blubber (​​1974) and the Fudge books that were page-turners. But for young girls, Blume was essentially the internet before it existed. Her books, like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970), Deenie (1973) and Forever (1975), were resources for the unspoken. Her stories included candid references and sometimes full narratives digging into the mechanics and emotions around menstruation, masturbation, body acceptance and non-judgmental premarital sex. Blume’s books were passed around like knowledge contraband, especially by girls from strict families who never spoke of such topics, or attendees of religious schools that regurgitated dogmas meant to make young women feel guilty or bad about their “impure” thoughts.

But what about Blume, herself? As much as her books have become seminal and beloved, the woman behind the stories has remained elusive. At age 83, Blume becomes the subject of the documentary Judy Blume Forever, remedying that in an informative and deeply emotional way. It features the still spritely and feisty author telling her own story, filling in the details of her own coming of age as a woman of her generation who had one foot in the expected—including a cold marriage and content motherhood—and the other foot frustratingly tapping towards something else. 

The documentary gives us the life story of Blume, from childhood to now, presenting a fully-formed human looking back on a stellar career that just happened to reinvent young adult fiction. For those who just know Blume’s bibliography, this is a fascinating connector of the writer to her works as it pulls back the curtain on the events and experiences that inspired some of her most famous books. And for the Blume superfans, Judy Blume Forever expands upon the correspondence she received from kids, some of whom she established lasting pen pal relationships with, including two who are now adults and appear in the film. They provide the most emotionally affecting and personal moments of the doc, with author and readers sharing how Blume’s books became a real-life bridge and how moving that became all around. 

Directors Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok do an exceptional job balancing Blume’s personal story against the backdrop of the women’s movement. They illuminate her childhood through home videos, family photos and archival television interviews and news footage. Wisely, they have Judy tell her story to camera, both as the primary talking head and as the reader of excerpts from her stories. Witnessing the passionate way she still performs her character’s voices speaks volumes about how intimate she remains with her work, even to the point of tears. Blume is not jaded, and the doc warmly frames how she’s remained present and involved regarding the impact of her stories, and the cultural waves that have occurred because of them. 

The archival footage from the ‘70s and ‘80s also gives us a fresh look at a woman coming into her own as an artist, independent woman, and voice for her audience. The success of her books made her an unexpected celebrity voice, and eventually a cultural lighting rod, as she appeared on talk shows and political roundtables to debate book banning, the culture wars and the need for children’s books to reflect the realities of young readers. It’s both inspiring and sobering to see her, 50 years ago, speaking without apology for her writing, and watching the same moral outrage come back at her (and, even more so, at LGBTQ authors and authors of color) with such vengeance today. History certainly does repeat itself.

The doc also features a nice array of talking heads who speak to the impact Blume’s individual works had on them, or their circles. From diverse colleagues to queer writers and contemporary storytellers and creators like Lena Dunham (Girls) and Anna Konkle (Pen15)–even Blume’s close childhood friends—Judy Blume Forever provides entertaining stories, cultural context and even direct points of inspiration from Blume’s books to following generations. It also contextualizes how some of her text hasn’t aged well, but why so much of her bibliography still connects because of the authenticity of her stories.

Judy Blume Forever is a love letter to the author and her life’s work. It’s thorough and honest in including Blume’s own critical self-assessments of her flaws and mistakes. But it’s refreshing to have an author of such note track their own journey, in both a personal and historical way, authentically, especially regarding a woman’s experience wrestling with cultural norms and growing societal freedom. And for fans of her work, to get the personal stories behind the books is pure gold. Judy Blume Forever is a fitting celebration, and a presentation of Blume’s well-earned flowers.

Director: Davina Pardo, Leah Wolchok
Release Date: April 21, 2023

Tara Bennett is a Los Angeles-based writer covering film, television and pop culture for publications such as SFX Magazine, Total Film, SYFY Wire and more. She’s also written books on Sons of Anarchy, Outlander, Fringe, The Story of Marvel Studios and The Art of Avatar: The Way of Water. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraDBennett or Instagram @TaraDBen

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