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'Judy Blume Forever' review: A literary icon gets a triumphant, timely tribute

If you love Judy Blume, this movie's for you.
By Belen Edwards  on 
Judy Blume, wearing blue-rimmed glasses and a green blouse, reads from her book "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret."
Judy Blume reads from her classic "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video

Not even two minutes into the new documentary Judy Blume Forever, Judy Blume looks up from a copy of her novel Deenie. She's just finished reading one of the novel's most famous and most controversial passages: a sex education class for middle schoolers where the teacher addresses masturbation.

"Let's raise our hands if we masturbate, everybody!" Blume says to the film crew, waving her hands in the air. Laughter rings out from behind the camera, and as Blume joins in, you can imagine everyone in the room raising their hands with her.

The moment encapsulates the kind of refreshing honesty that has made readers gravitate towards Blume for over 50 years. It's also representative of the tone and content you can expect from the rest of Judy Blume Forever, which presents a thoughtful, humorous, and of course, honest look at Blume's storied career.

Judy Blume Forever gives us a look at Judy Blume, from Judy Blume.

Judy Blume in a green blouse.
Judy Blume in "Judy Blume Forever." Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video

Much of Judy Blume Forever is spent with Blume speaking directly into camera, telling us about her childhood, her marriages, and her journey to becoming the author we know and love today. Because really, who better to give us an account of Blume's life than Blume herself?

Generations of readers know Blume's work to be candid about matters of puberty and sexuality, so it's no surprise that Blume adopts a similar candor with regards to her own life. She is just as quick to admit that she's made mistakes, such as in prior marriages, as she is to be excited about her own work.

Directors Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok bring us through Blume's life and work in chronological order, using many of her most classic novels to explore different chapters in her life. With Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, the film tackles adolescence and Blume's own experiences with puberty. Later, she discusses how bullying in her daughter's class inspired Blubber, and how her marital problems primed her to write her first adult novel, Wifey.

Throughout Judy Blume Forever, it's clear that Blume's writing wasn't just a career for her. It was its own kind of liberation, one that let her process her own anxieties in a way that allows her readers to feel equally seen. Judy Blume Forever celebrates this with Blume reading passages from her own work, accompanied by charming animated interludes featuring everything from literal birds and bees to dancing tampons and pads. These playful interpretations of famous excerpts — including the aforementioned Deenie masturbation scene — help bring to life the feeling of reading these novels for the first time, while still letting the text speak for itself.

Judy Blume Forever highlights Blume's relationship with her fans.

Lorrie Kim, a woman in a black blouse, holds up an envelope.
Lorrie Kim and one of her letters from Judy Blume. Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video

As much as Judy Blume Forever relies on Blume itself, it also takes time to emphasize her influence on her readers. The film interviews fellow authors like Mary H.K. Choi and Jacqueline Woodson, as well as other famed fans such as Molly Ringwald, Lena Dunham, and Samantha Bee. But by far the most moving contributions come from Lorrie Kim and Karen Chilstrom, two readers who corresponded with Blume for years

In the film, Kim and Chilstrom describe divulging their insecurities and even their childhood traumas to Blume, whose responses would go on to have a concrete impact on their lives. No doubt these sections of Judy Blume Forever, along with other discussions of the letters she received, will leave you misty-eyed at the very least. Not only do they let us know how much Blume means to readers, they also let us know how much her readers mean to her. However, Judy Blume Forever is quick to remind us of the troubling fact that not everyone wants her to have readers in the first place.

Judy Blume Forever reminds us of the dangers of censorship.

Judy Blume sits in an archive, looking through a cardboard box of her letters.
Judy Blume looks through letters from her fans. Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video

Thanks to her unflinching looks at sex and puberty, Blume has consistently drawn the ire of censors everywhere. Judy Blume Forever dives into her quest to curb censorship, as well as her insistence that books cannot harm children.

Here, the film enlists the testimonies of other authors who have been banned, such as Jason Reynolds, author of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You; and Alex Gino, author of Melissa. In addition to their discussion of Blume and her impact on their work, these authors, whose books examine racism and gender identity, are the modern-day iterations of Blume as far as censors are concerned. Just as Blume's novels broach important topics of adolescence that still resonate with her audience, Reynolds and Gino and other banned authors' work presents vital narratives for young readers to enjoy and see themselves in. Judy Blume Forever may primarily focus on Blume's books, but the film still reminds us that the fight against close-minded censorship on authors everywhere is far from over.

Despite the intensity of this aspect of the documentary, Pardo and Wolchok keep things hopeful as Judy Blume Forever draws to a close. The film mostly relies on interviews with grown-ups who read Blume's novels when they were children, but near the end of the documentary we hear from current-day school kids as well. Their words, about how Blume seems to understand what they're going through today, echo decades-old footage used earlier in the film, where kids declare that Blume just gets it. The message is clear here and throughout the rest of this delightful documentary: Judy Blume endures.

Judy Blume Forever is streaming on Prime Video Apr. 21.(opens in a new tab)

A woman with short brown hair in a striped sweater.
Belen Edwards
Entertainment Reporter

Belen Edwards is an Entertainment Reporter at Mashable. She covers movies and TV with a focus on fantasy and science fiction, adaptations, animation, and more nerdy goodness.

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