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“I love them and hate them at the same time.” That is what a seventh grader in this film says about the mean girls at the top of the middle school social hierarchy, but it could apply equally well to just about every aspect of that time of life, from parents to crushes, best friends, even to ourselves. It is a miracle any of us survive the transition into teen-hood.
The title of “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah” and much of the film accurately depict the passions and priorities of that moment. The film is a love letter to the agonies and messiness of the kids on the brink of maturity. And it is a love letter from Adam Sandler to his family. He plays the father of characters played by his real-life daughters, and his wife plays the mother of his daughter’s best friend.
Sunny Sandler makes an appealing debut as Stacy, with Sadie Sandler as her usually supportive older sister, Ronnie. Stacy explains that her bat mitzvah is a rite of passage, recognizing a child entering adulthood, as in many other cultures. But how well she understands that is another question. As she prays, a la “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” her priorities are more about the festivities than anything she is learning about Judaism or being an adult. She explains to her parents that the rest of it “is important to you and other old people and God and stuff, but to me, it’s the party.”
Stacy’s lifetime best friend is Lydia (a winning Samantha Lorraine), and the movie captures well the endlessly supportive and intense friendships of that age, where every detail of their lives is shared, discussed, and endorsed. In a world where the party theme for the marathon of seventh-grade bar and bat mitzvah celebrations is of more vital concern than the reading from the Torah (the first five books of The Bible) or the mitzvah (charity) project, the girls shrewdly assess a predecessor’s Carnivale decorations as though examining a diamond through a jeweler’s loupe. It’s nice, but they assure each other, “Your Candyland theme is going to be the best of the year!” “Until your New York Theme!” They dream of a future where they and their cute boyfriends will have adjoining homes in Tribeca ... in Taylor Swift’s building. They are so closely bonded that Lydia writes the most personal part of Stacy’s bat mitzvah ceremony, the speech (Stacy’s parents go along with this after Lydia points out that Stacy is not a good writer). Stacy does something just as significant for Lydia: she creates the adorable biography video to elicit “awwwws” from the crowd before her grand entrance to the party.
And then things start to go wrong as Stacy experiences a moment of total humiliation in trying to impress her crush, Andy (Dylan Hoffman). Stacy sees Andy kissing Lydia, which leads to the explosive moment when she says the words of the title.
There's a sweetness to this story that reflects Adam Sandler’s real-life love for his family. While the father he plays wears sweats and makes dad jokes (yeah, not much of a stretch), he is a devoted dad who adores his girls and is willing to impose some tough, or more like tough-ish love when Stacy’s bad choices catch up with her.
The reflective screenplay by Alison Peck, based on the novel by Fiona Rosenbloom, shares an appreciation for that “who do I want to be?” age when any given moment includes both eagerness and terror at being impelled toward adulthood. In an early scene, Stacy insists on wearing stiletto heels (adult) so she can “twin” with Lydia (child). Her mother reluctantly agrees, pointing out that Stacy’s feet will be in agony. After a few teetering moments in grown-up shoes, Stacy puts on her sneakers, representing both her childhood and her alliance with her father, whose clothing style can be summarized as “baggy.” A friend brags that her mother finally let her shave her legs but acknowledges that now her shins feel like they’ve been rubbed with wasabi. Later, the same girl is disappointed to learn that her friends are taking her to a boy-girl party. “I thought we were going to hang out and make slime.” Stacy is still too much of a kid to pretend that does not sound like more fun.
The movie does not do much better than Stacy regarding the significance of the bat mitzvah. The peppy rabbi is played by Sarah Sherman of "Saturday Night Live," who points out that volunteering at an assisted living facility so you can hang out with your crush does not qualify as a mitzvah project. But the rabbi's silly song, “God is Random,” in response to the students’ questions about injustice in the world, is a missed opportunity to share some wisdom about this universal question with the class and the audience. No one expects a film like this to be a theological treatise, but some sense of how faiths and philosophers engage with issues of meaning and purpose would be as much a recognition of what it means to be an adult as walking in heels. The film is pleasantly entertaining, but it expects us to appreciate Stacy’s and Lydia’s growing understanding of Andy’s superficiality when it does not pass that test itself.
Now playing on Netflix.
Sunny Sandler as Stacy Friedman
Samantha Lorraine as Lydia
Idina Menzel as Bree Friedman
Adam Sandler as Danny Friedman
Sadie Sandler as Ronnie Friedman
Jackie Sandler as Gabi Rodriguez Katz
Sarah Sherman as Rabbi Rebecca
Luis Guzmán as Eli Katz
Ido Mosseri as DJ Schmuley
Dylan Hoffman as Andy Goldfarb
Dean Scott Vazquez as Mateo
Miya Cech as Kym Chang Cohen