Being a relative of Adam Sandler and appearing in a movie is usually the occasion for critical scorn. Historically, this has mostly been applied to his wife, Jackie. You show up in the movie not because of your talent, but because you are related biologically or by marriage to one of the most successful comedic personalities of the last quarter century, whose deal with Netflix apparently runs into his seventies. Making matters worse, the movie you are in is quite bad. It represents Sandler’s most cursory involvement, either as a producer, or as a star who is going through the motions to add another zero onto the end of his bank balance.
There are exceptions to every rule, and within the Sandler family there exists a blossoming next generation of talent. Their daughters Sadie and Sunny Sandler, now 17 and 14 respectively, have more than 20 acting credits apiece, but for obvious reasons of age, have never had to do much heavy lifting. Now Sunny takes centre stage in You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, her older sister in a comic relief supporting role, and any current or future cracks about nepotism one might be inclined to make may have shrivelled up and died on the vine.
Sunny plays Stacy Friedman, a 13-year-old who is on the cusp of the most important day in the life of any young Jewish girl: her bat mitzvah. This is, of course, the traditional coming-of-age ceremony that announces her as a woman in the Jewish faith, and for a boy becoming a man it’s called a bar mitzvah. It involves learning to read in Hebrew and singing a traditional text in front of a temple full of everyone you know for something like 30 minutes, but all Stacy and anyone else who goes through it really cares about is the party that comes afterward. And since this is the 21st century and Stacy’s family is comparatively wealthy, that means extravagant catering, the hire of a very impressive hall, and most importantly, a DJ with all the pyrotechnics – in this case the Hebrew-approved DJ Schmuley (Ido Mosseri).
Of course, the other thing that happens at this fragile age is all sorts of drama with your bestie, most likely over a boy but it could be over anything. Stacy’s bestie is Lydia (Samantha Lorraine), whose own bat mitzvah will precede Stacy’s by a matter of weeks. Both the girls like a cool mop-headed kid in their Hebrew School, Andy (Dylan Hoffman), who is typically too aloof by half to be worthy of their affections. Only Stacy voices this crush, though, so when Lydia ends up kissing him, it’s a betrayal of the highest order.
Stacy does not handle that very well, and in truth, both are guilty of minor friendship infractions that get blown up into major ones when they mutually disinvite the other to their bat mitzvahs. Stacy is undergoing a number of other signposts of approaching womanhood, such as her monthly visitor, and shaving for the first time. Looking on and providing whatever support they can are her father (Adam Sandler), her mother (Idina Menzel) and her sister (Sunny’s real-life sister, the aforementioned Sadie Sandler).
You may never have heard Adam Sandler and Sofia Coppola mentioned in the same sentence, but there is a first time for everything. There’s definitely a Coppola-ish quality to You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, but that’s not to suggest that director Sammi Cohen is lathering her film with lush sun-dappled cinematography or new wave hits from the early 1980s. Bat Mitzvah is like Coppola mashed up with Mindy Kaling, as the more obvious point of comparison is Netflix’s own recently completed series Never Have I Ever, which documents similar travails with girls just a year or two older than Stacy and Lydia, and with a similar bubble gum sensibility and smartly curated soundtrack of pop adjacent modern music.
What’s most striking about Cohen’s film is how realistic it is. Sunny Sandler was within a year of her character’s actual age when she made the movie, and the rest of the cast appear to be as well, not 17-year-olds playing 13-year-olds. The result is a group of real, believable gawky young Jewish kids on the verge of becoming teenagers. And because they all have real talent – most notably Sandler, though by no means limited to her – they easily disappear into the characters, even if that’s because they are playing versions of their real selves.
The extent to which this film is unashamed of its Jewishness is simply delightful. As we all know from the most paranoid conspiracies of the political right, there are a lot of Jewish people working in Hollywood, but it’s not often that the intimate details of their faith are put out there for such mainstream consumption. This is a real peek inside Hebrew school at a subsection of youth culture that rarely gets this sort of showcase, with hilarious details like Rabbi Rebecca, played by current Saturday Night Live cast member Sarah Sherman, who is the perfectly eccentric encapsulation of the modern religious leader who tries to make the religion in question hip and relevant. She steals every moment on screen as she busts the balls of some stammering kid in the front row, too young and confused to understand that he is the centre of a post-modern comedic bit that is nonetheless gentle in nature.
This whole film is gentle, at the same time that it serves the needs of various familiar genre components like gross-out humour and some quantity of broad slapstick. You’ll savour the details of the falling out between Stacy and Lydia, as this is where the echoes of Sofia Coppola come in. Like the director who we suspect inspired her, Cohen is able to capture the real nuances of this fraught dynamic, and imbue them with real pathos.
Speaking of nuances, it’s pretty clear that Adam Sandler’s youngest daughter is a star in the making. It took this critic nearly the whole movie to look her up on IMDB to see who she was, never guessing that a Sander nepo baby would be able to give this kind of magnetic performance, offering just the right facial expression or reaction to every stimulus. Whether she picked it up along the way through hard work or is just naturally talented, Sunny Sandler may be here to stay.
You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah is currently streaming on Netflix.