As Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok’s warm-hearted documentary “Judy Blume Forever” approaches its final minutes, even the most stone-faced of audiences are likely to shed a few tears. Throughout the Judy Blume-centric feature, the beloved American author is joined by a number of talking heads — a classy assortment, from Blume’s own kids and childhood pals to fellow authors like Mary H.K. Choi and Jacqueline Woodson, plus famous devotees like Lena Dunham and Molly Ringwald — but none are as meaningful as Lorrie Kim and Karen Chilstrom, two long-time fans who have corresponded with Blume for decades.
It should come as little surprise that the best-selling author gets (even to this day!) tons of fan mail, but that Blume delights in saving much of it, often responding to it, and truly cherishing it is just one of the delights to be found in the doc.
But back to Kim and Chilstrom, now-grown women who have formed deep friendships with Blume over decades of writing. And while that alone would be sweet enough and still more proof of Blume’s truly good nature, how those relationships have blossomed forms a deeply satisfying conclusion to a story about an icon truly deserving of any and all accolades. For both women, Blume served as something of a diary during tumultuous coming-of-ages, one even better than the most faithful of journals.
And Blume didn’t just write back, she proactively and positively improved the lives of both Kim and Chilstrom. For Chilstrom, she helped find the then-tween social services to guide her through a complicated healing process after the death of her brother. For Kim — and this is where the tears start — Blume and her current husband literally showed up at the young woman’s college graduation when the rest of her family couldn’t attend.
That’s the magic of Judy Blume: She shows up, again and again, for kids (“of all ages,” she says at one point) who need her, who relish her honesty and candor, who realize how wonderful and rare it is for an adult to meet them on their level.
Organized mostly chronologically, Blume herself walks us through some of her biggest books and what was going on in her life at the time she was writing them (cute and kicky animations provide a backdrop when Blume reads aloud from her works). Firstly, though, there is her childhood, which sheds light on how some of Blume’s most essential obsessions formed. A child of World War II (she keenly remembers turning seven as it ended), Blume still recalls the feeling that adults weren’t being totally truthful with her about the big stuff. The war was “far away” and couldn’t hurt her. She didn’t need to worry about her father’s health. Being happy was easy. Even as a kiddo, Blume knew it was bunk.
But who could tell other kids that? Eventually, Judy Blume could, though “Judy Blume Forever” also takes us through the many years before she reached that point: swapping secrets with gal pals in high school, going to college to find a husband, always hoping to meet an ideal that didn’t actually appeal to her. Blume was a late bloomer, at least when it comes to her work, and she’s remarkably frank about the years spent not writing (and wanting to) and then early attempts (that were not appreciated). But Blume’s belief that what she was doing was important and was going to help kids feel less alone drove her, and — guess what? — proved to be totally true.
More than 50 years into her career, Blume is still making her mark on the world (and its youngest citizens), making a sterling case for the possibility that being a good person is truly the best medicine. These days, she’s kicking around Key West (where she, of course, now owns a bookstore), staying healthy, and gearing up for the big screen adaptation of her beloved “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” in April (which seems poised to kickstart another, very well-deserved Blume-assaince). She’s as vital as ever, in many ways.
Clocking in at just under 100 minutes, “Judy Blume Forever” — quite understandably — can’t cover every inch of Blume’s remarkable life (her relationship with her beloved editor Richard W. Jackson, for instance, could inspire an entire other film, so too could her work supporting banned books of all stripes), but it does provide an edifying and rich overview of everything Judy. Pardo and Wolchok use some of the doc’s final moments to interview current kids about Blume’s books,
After all, we already know the joy and charm of Blume, best put by one starry-eyed talking head early in the film (and a man to boot!): “Wow, Judy’s talking to me!” She was then, she is now, and — God willing — she will continue to do so, forever.
“Judy Blume Forever” premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Amazon will release the film on Prime Video on Friday, April 21.