Adam Sandler Makes a Netflix Family Video with You Are So Not Invited to My Bat MitzvahMovies Reviews adam sandler
In addition to some of the laziest jokes he’s ever had a hand in concocting, the 2010 Adam Sandler comedy Grown-Ups contains a moment of astonishingly shameless treacle, the kind of thing his fellow Saturday Night Live staffers would have savaged in the early ’90s. In an early scene, one of the children of wealthy talent agent Lenny Feder (Sandler) becomes briefly imperiled by attempting to drive the family vehicle. You see, Lenny’s beloved basketball coach has died, and the adorable moppet tries to use the GPS to steer her toward heaven, so that she can visit him! Awwww. Kids say the darnedest things, and also the most goddamn nauseatingly cutesy bullshit.
Lenny’s little girl isn’t played by either of Sandler’s real-life daughters Sunny or Sadie, though they appear elsewhere in the film, and in plenty of his others. But that moment is reason enough to fear Sandler further exploring and sentimentalizing the complicated business of parenthood – that, and the fact that so many of his worst movies cast him as a “regular” (usually extremely well-off) cranky, put-upon suburban schlub, usually opposite kids written with all the subtlety and depth of Full House. At first glance, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah looks like a project where Sandler has finally jettisoned his aging crew of allegedly grown-up hangers-on and fully replaced them with those who presumably replaced them in his heart. Stacey Friedman, the girl who is so not inviting her former bestie to the most important ceremony and after-party of her young life, is played by a now-teenage Sunny Sandler. Stacey’s older sister Ronnie is played by Sunny’s older sister Sunny. Stacey and Ronnie’s slightly curmudgeonly dad is played by, yes, Adam Sandler. Their mom is played by, well, Idina Menzel, Sandler’s about-to-be-ex from Uncut Gems… but Sandler’s wife Jackie does turn up in a supporting role (and as long as he was casting Gems alumni, Julia Fox could’ve killed in the part instead).
Yes, there’s source material (a YA novel of the same name), a director not principally affiliated with Happy Madison (Sammi Cohen), and a screenwriter who didn’t meet the Sandman during his SNL days (Alison Peck). But all of this has happened before, only for the movie in question to land somewhere between the mediocrity of Anger Management and the atrocity of Grown Ups. The Happy Madison house style conquers all.
The Netflix-era Happy Madison style, however, has proven surprisingly durable following a rocky start, producing some of Sandler’s best and most surprising comedies in years. Its latest surprise is that nepo babies Sunny and Sadie Sandler both have a winning, instantly likable comic presence. (This is all the more impressive given that their mother, presumably a lovely woman, is not similarly natural in front of the camera. Hell, their dad didn’t always look all that comfortable in his earliest SNL appearances.) Sunny has the spotlight here as the excitable, sometimes dramatic Stacey, whose best friendship with Lydia Rodriguez Katz (Samantha Lorraine) has lasted for most of their lives; their plans for the ultimate bat mitzvah parties to usher them into womanhood have gone on nearly as long. But when Lydia is lightly pulled toward a more popular crowd, and attracts the interest of Stacey’s crush-bro Andy Goldfarb (Dylan Hoffman), Stacey more or less loses it, spiraling into self-centered anguish, hence the rescinded invitation.
Stacey’s adolescent turmoil makes Ronnie’s blasé style – she’s supportive of her younger sister but also dedicated to spending as much time as possible watching horror movies on her phone with her own best friend – even funnier, and Sadie Sandler has a deadpan directness reminiscent of the older Haim sisters in Licorice Pizza. (If this seems like an odd reference point for a Netflix family film, bassist Este Haim worked on this movie’s score, and the band appears on the soundtrack.) And it’s not just the Sandler clan that shares an easy, lightly comic chemistry; the movie gives Lydia and Stacey’s friendship plenty of screentime before their conflict emerges, and its margins are full of engaging little side characters and throwaway moments that don’t feel overly calculated, even if certain foregrounded exchanges (“I can’t even”/”I can’t even even more”) already sound pretty dated even to this old man’s ears. The occasional touches of snickering grodiness even manage to feel authentically teenaged. You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah mostly avoids the feeling that Happy Madison is cynically diversifying its portfolio to include the YA market. If anything, it provides an opportunity for Sandler to explore some next-gen (or is it next-next-gen?) Jewishness after holding it down for Gen-X Jewish comedians for so many years. (SNL‘s Sarah Sherman, as a rabbi who could be described as earthily extra, is ready to take the baton.)
That said, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah remains a Happy Madison picture through and through. As the man himself says early in the film, nodding to his own off-screen dressing down: “Comfort always comes first, sweetie.” For Sandler and company, comfort means the inclusion of zany old people, lowlife weirdos (like an inexplicably beloved bar/bat mitzvah DJ popular enough to request a “green room and per diem”) and conspicuous consumption cosplaying as middle class. There are even the faintest whispers of racial grievances in the way that the popular mean girls of this particularly Hebrew school are nonwhite virtue-signalers who never reveal any additional dimension beyond their refusal to bully another girl for having her period. Sandler loves an irredeemable cardboard bad guy to knock down. Style-wise, director Sammi Cohen distinguishes the movie from its corporate siblings through zooms, constant zooms, covering various distances, speeds and levels of necessity. These can be generously interpreted as a tribute to the homemade feel of even the more professional bat mitzvah videos of years past, or less generously interpreted as a visual cry for help.
More likely, though, the movie was fun to make. Most Happy Madison productions seem to be; the trick is for them to be equally fun to watch, and this one comes close, without generating the same level of laughs or pathos as Sandler’s underrated family-milestone comedy from an older vantage, The Week Of. The point of relief is how far the Sandman has come from the nadir of Grown Ups. If You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah does have the feel of an expensive, well-appointed, but not exactly lushly-made family project – maybe even a coming-of-age gift to the younger Sandler daughter – at least it mounts a charm offensive, rather than treating its audience like a pack of easily manipulated rubes.
Director: Sammi Cohen
Writer: Alison Peck
Starring: Sunny Sandler, Samantha Lorraine, Sadie Sandler, Adam Sandler, Idina Menzel, Sarah Sherman, Jackie Sandler, Dylan Hoffman, Luis Guzman
Release Date: August 25, 2023 (Netflix)
Jesse Hassenger is associate movies editor at Paste. He also writes about movies and other pop-culture stuff for a bunch of outlets including Polygon, Inside Hook, Vulture, and SportsAlcohol.com, where he also has a podcast. Following @rockmarooned on Twitter is a great way to find out about what he’s watching or listening to, and which terrifying flavor of Mountain Dew he has most recently consumed.