This generation’s teen movie trend, which started out as a niche indie subgenre circa 2018, has slowly been shifting towards the mainstream in the past couple of years. In a way, these films harken back to the ‘90s when the focus was on younger, more pre-pubescent leads, as opposed to the older high school or college subjects of the ‘80s and ‘00s. Progenitors of this current period — entries like Eighth Grade and Booksmart — take the John Hughes randomness and imbue it with a vérité style that follows a more muted structure.
Despite being a vehicle for Adam Sandler’s entire family, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah aims for those same artful trappings, capturing the awkwardness of 13-year-old Zoomers, from their cringey patter and behavior to the young generation’s strange approach to keeping themselves busy with activities that actually defy what looks at ease amidst cinematic conventions. We get to see them binge horror movies from their iPhones at bar mitzvahs and play rudderless games such as “Who Can Cry First at TikTok Videos” – things that just don’t play well on camera. Even “hanging at the mall” gets supplanted with “online-shopping together.”
If you think about it though, strange and inexplicable adolescent behavior dates back even further than Duckie spontaneously lip-synching to Otis Redding in Pretty In Pink. An entire gymnasium of seniors unenthusiastically, yet obligatorily, doddering to “The Stroll” in American Graffiti a decade earlier is pretty hard to grasp as well, unless you lived through it. And of course you can go back even further to the peculiarities of the Beach Party films of the ‘60s or the insatiable angst of the Rebel-era ’50s.
In YASNITMBM (I’m only going to type it out twice), Adam Sandler is the selling point but he’s not the star. His younger daughter, Sunny Sandler, is in the lead. She plays Stacy Friedman, an 8th grader who attends a Jewish school and, just like every other kid in her class, is excitedly awaiting her own bat mitzvah celebration. Although to be honest, she could do without all the religious formalities and rites that come with it and skip right to the afterparty, where she hopes to finally get the chance to talk to her crush, Andy Goldfarb (Dylan Hoffman). Problem is, Stacy never considers that she’s just one of an entire class-full of girls who likes Andy, which includes her best friend Lydia (Samantha Lorraine).
Stacy and Lydia grew up together and do everything with each other. But when Lydia starts dating Andy, Stacy becomes consumed with how to get revenge for the betrayal. It was at this point I turned to my wife and informed her how this type of thing happens to guys all the time – dating one another’s crushes – but it seldom ruins friendships, or even gets brought up ever again. She informed me that girls, on the other hand, are exactly like the ones in this movie.
As it turns out, Andy is a pretty big wad and epitomizes moronic adolescent behavior to the extreme. He’s just as self-absorbed as Stacy, however not remotely as deliberate. In the film, self-absorption is not a mere affliction chosen by some people but an inevitability of adolescence. And so, it judges its characters less by what they do and more by how they react to and deal with their own mistakes.
While the movie lovingly ribs the idiosyncrasies of these kids, it does so to their parents as well. If we’re strange, our parents must be strange too. Though director Sammi Cohen does well never to undermine the authority of the adults over the kids. Parents have a real effect on their children in this world. Stacy comes from a loving family, as opposed to Lydia, whose parents are going through a bad divorce.
Stacy’s parents are played by Idina Menzel and Sunny Sandler’s real-life father (Adam’s wife ironically plays the mother of Lydia), while Stacy’s older sister is played by her real-life sister, Sadie. When Adam Sandler isn’t involved earlier in the story, his absence is noticeable, if not distracting. Eventually, the entertainment value stops rising and falling with the comedian’s screen time and we become wholly invested in Stacy’s story.
For this, we can credit the astute direction of Cohen and the punched-up script by Alison Peck. But the longer we watch, it becomes clear that Sunny Sandler can carry a movie better than most 13-year-olds you’ll ever see. Oozing with the screen presence of a star much more seasoned, the young teen buys into the emotional stakes of her character and moves with authenticity and confident comedic chops. It’s hard for both young talent and non-comedians to have a sort of poker face when delivering jokes, but the actress never becomes overly pleased with herself when her jokes land. That’s not to say her role is all comedy. Stacy is extremely bratty – a trait that Sandler nails as well – however, her charisma makes it easy to maintain our sympathy for her.
On the other side of the camera, the nuances of Stacy are handled brilliantly as well. We’re presented with a villain protagonist whose misdeeds could have easily tarnished our investment in the character. However, by the time Stacy begins her fall from grace, the audience is well-taught on the tendencies of kids her age. Also, teen drama is never as black and white as movies like to make it. But here, we see how revenge is not as premeditated as one would expect, and is often followed by immediate regret.
Every period’s youth is going to have its own quirks. But today’s generation is the first to be wholly consumed by technology and information. And just as Gen Z can’t even fathom why anyone in their right minds would spend their Friday nights cruising the strip, no one born before 1995 will relate to the interests of a tweenager today.
The best coming-of-age movies try less to make us relate to the environment in which its subjects reside, and more to make us sympathize with the characters regardless of which era they inhabit, showing us how, when distilled, these problems are the same as ours were at that age, regardless of when we grew up. You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah is a good coming-of-age movie, and a good comedy. It takes some real chances and has layers to how it can be enjoyed…and related to.