The new Netflix Adam Sandler movie, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, which begins streaming Friday, plays like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret meets Clueless.
It’s a combination that works, and the movie is much more fun than expected. Hats off to the writers, Alison Peck and Fiona Rosenbloom (on whose book the movie is based), for writing funny, often surprisingly touching, dialogue and creating a heroine and her friends who seem like real tween girls.
Credit is also due to Adam Sandler, one of the producers as well as the star, for stepping back from his role as Danny Friedman and letting his daughter, Sunny Sandler, who plays the main character, Stacy Friedman, take center stage. His older daughter, Sadie Sandler, has a smaller but scene-stealing role as Stacy’s older sister, Ronnie. His wife, Jackie Sandler, also has a small part, as the mother of Stacy’s best friend.
Obviously, it could have been a lazy trick to cast his family, but it’s a decision that pays off, because there is such a warm, funny vibe in his scenes with Stacy, whether they are just joking around or having a major fight. I can’t say whether they are simply playing themselves, but the goofy, uninhibited Sandler plays the dad many of us wish we had, caring and stable but willing to get silly at the drop of a hat. Sunny Sandler, who has had small parts in many of her father’s movies, has a natural presence that is, in some ways, similar to her father’s, but she has a kind of gawky low-key charm that is all her own.
It helps that Sunny, as well as Samantha Lorraine, who plays her BFF, Lydia, and other girls and guys who play their friends and frenemies, are all about the real age that their characters are meant to be, or just a year or two older. Having 29-year-olds play young teens is so 20th century and this movie shows how much more intense and captivating it is to see real kids playing kids.
Set in the privileged world of assimilated but still somewhat traditional California Jews, the movie has two basic themes. One is about Stacy focusing on all the wrong things as she prepares for her bat mitzvah: mainly that a lavish party (with stars like Dua Lipa performing and a virgin mojito bar) will catapult her to instant popularity and win her the love of her crush, Andy Goldfarb (Dylan Hoffman). The lines about Stacy and Lydia’s vision for their future are among the funniest in the movie, as Stacy says, “Do you realize that one day he will be mine and you’ll have a cool boyfriend too and then we’ll have a joint wedding and move to adjoining lofts in Tribeca?” and Lydia adds, “In Taylor Swift’s building!”
But the focus on the pricey party puts her at odds with her father, who grew up in a far more modest environment, and much of the comedy hinges on this conflict.
After Stacy tells him, “Oh, my God, this is important! I’m becoming a freaking woman, everyone!” he tells her she should concentrate on her Torah portion and her mitzvah project – a series of good deeds meant to precede the ceremony. She shoots back, with total honesty, “That’s not important. I mean, it is important to you and other old people and God and stuff. But to me, the party is important.”
Her father, naturally, has an answer to that: “Listen, when I got bar mitzvah-ed, we had a party in Grandma’s basement. We all split like this giant matzo ball. That was the fun. You know what the theme was? Being Jewish. Just practice your prayers and write your speech already.”
Rift between Stacy and Lydia
THE OTHER storyline is the rift that breaks out between Stacy and Lydia – who is also about to have her own bat mitzvah – over Andy. Stacy, intent on impressing Andy, accepts a dare to jump off a cliff into a creek, and while it should be a triumph, it ends with her being shamed and laughed at for something that could only happen to a female teen.
Lydia joins in the laughter and that’s where their fight starts. As they feud, Stacy does some very mean things to Lydia, and the movie makes the point that the two of them often exclude their nerdier friends in their pursuit of popularity, and it’s nice to have a heroine with realistic flaws for a change. It is so touching to see the girl-power vibe of their friendship at first and that makes it sad when their feelings for a boy push them apart, and you really root for them to find their way back to each other far more than you care what happens with either of them and Andy.
There are many jokes and quirky touches that make our visit to this Jewish community fun. Rabbi Rebecca (Sarah Sherman) and Cantor Jerry (Dan Bulla), who tells his charges that he had a teen band called Exodus because Genesis was already taken, are delightfully unhinged.
The scenes at bar and bat mitzvahs where Stacy’s older sister, Ronnie, and her BFF, Zaara (Zaara Kuttemperoor) ignore the boys and sit watching gory horror movies on their phones are nice. The girls’ nemesis is a Jewish-Asian girl whose last name is Chang Cohen, likely a reference to Tina Cohen-Chang on Glee. And, of course, there is the obnoxious Israeli DJ Schmuley (Ido Mosseri), who drives a bright purple SUV and keeps the tunes coming. A group of older ladies, de rigueur for this sort of movie, actually get some good lines.
Idina Menzel doesn’t have that much to do as Stacy’s mom, but she often seems to be on the brink of laughing as her husband and daughters spar. Naturally, there are more than a few fart jokes and that kind of thing, and the one truly cringe-worthy moment is when Danny shops for tampons for Stacy.
But the bits that don’t work are made up for by the many that do, like this advice that Danny gives Stacy after she tells him she needs a break: “Well, welcome to being an adult. And welcome to being Jewish. We don’t get breaks.”