Are you there, God? It's me, nepo baby.
You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah suffers from a collision of two competing, incompatible missions. The first is to be an entry in the Adam Sandler comedy universe. Sandler’s production company Happy Madison produced the film for Netflix. It’s cast in the way the films he produces typically are: bringing in his buddies and family. You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah takes this one step further, literally casting his two daughters as his two daughters, including his younger child Sunny as the lead, Stacy Friedman, in an apparent attempt to make her a star.
The Sandler touch goes beyond the casting. It’s the tone and sense of humor: Broad and vaguely mean-spirited while still aiming for warm hug energy. It feels a little bit like arguing with your best friend or getting a little carried away with mean jokes when you’re roasting someone in a group chat: There’s a lot of underlying warmth, but still some nastiness. The film has a lot of stuff that rubs me the wrong way. A throwaway about Luis Guzman’s character getting divorced and being a disinterested dad that has the cadence of a joke but a very bleak flavor and no real punchline.
Many of the gags are big and goofy in addition to oddly chilly. The rabbi played by Sarah Sherman, for example, is both a total whirlwind of energy, singing songs and mugging nonstop, and a frequent victim of bullying by the script and other characters. This is all par for the course for the post-2000 Sandler brand, and being a teen-flavored Grown Ups knockoff isn’t intrinsically bad.
The problem is that this counter to everything else the movie is trying to do. The other of the film’s identities is as a deeply-felt coming of age story. The film is directed by Sammi Cohen, whose previous film Crush highlights her strengths: Generating immersive character chemistry between bantering, prickly teen characters. Cohen spares a lot of empathy for Stacy and best friend/rival Lydia (Samantha Lorraine).
Yet “empathy” is not the word that I’d use to associate with the Sandler brand of joking. Sometimes the big goofy swing and the emotional character pulse are at catastrophic odds with each other. When Stacy inadvertently ruins Lydia’s bat mitzvah in humiliating fashion, it’s the most squirm-inducing scene of the year because Cohen tries to keep it in the emotional landscape of the characters, but it’s larger-than-life nightmare fuel for a teen. Similarly, Stacy’s redemption moment, in which she monologues to a crowd about her newfound self-awareness about her selfish pettiness, is undercut. Stacy’s speech fades out and we instead hear narration summarizing Stacy’s growth. It’s as if Sandler saw the speech itself and said “get this earnest stuff outta here.”
So the story’s two modes and tones are at odds with each other in the macro sense, and yet there are plenty of micro moments that work quite well — moreso on the “coming of age” side than the “broad comedy” side.
Start with the acting: Sunny Sandler isn’t exactly a revelation, but she is disarming, shifting from guarded to vulnerable in a way that feels authentically teenaged. The ebb and flow between Lydia and Stacy blends nicely with Stacy trying to figure out what type of person she’s going to be. I can see her thriving in indie comedies if those ever start getting made again. Lorraine, meanwhile, is even better in more conventional ways, expressive with her emotions, projecting depth on a fairly straightforward character, and showing some good timing; I’d be more surprised if she doesn’t make it than if she does.
I do wish the film gave a little thought to how Stacy’s Judaism is a part of her identity, especially given the film’s premise. It’s here mostly for flavor. The deepest spiritual introspection the film offers is a consideration of what it means for a “mitzvah” to be genuine rather than performative. And kudos to the movie for allowing us 60+ consecutive seconds of Hebrew being read aloud in a teen comedy.
You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah also has the distinct, potentially off-putting flavor of being about rich people. But I actually didn’t hate this: it makes the film feel more authentic. The Sandlers are rich, after all. Other than a minor conflict around an expensive dress, this is a story about well-off teens living privileged lives in beautiful homes, temples, and private schools. It adds some depth to Stacy’s ongoing discovery that other people have their own complex inner lives that go beyond her basic perception.
As far as big Sandler-style jokes that land, there’s really only one: A shouting argument between Sandler’s father character and Stacy that happens off camera and barely muffled through a wall that culminates in Sandler shouting the line “That’s why we fought the Nazis?! So you could have a mojito bar!?”
You Are So Not Invited to My Bar Mitzvah suffers from its identity crisis, but gives just enough nice moments stay intermittently charming. But given that I’m a sucker for exactly this type of film, when you see the rating below, you might want to bump it down one extra notch if you’re not as in-the-can for any decently-made teen comedy as I am.
Regardless, it’s easily the worst of this year’s movies about a culturally-Jewish teenager coming of age with internal monologues addressed to God.