In news, non-illustrated, Review

Who’d have thought that the funniest Adam Sandler film in recent years would be one that he didn’t star in alongside Jennifer Aniston, Kevin James, or Chris Rock but rather, his real-life family? Indeed, in Netflix’s new comedy, YOU ARE SO NOT INVITED TO MY BAT MITZVAH, four members of the Sandler clan give top-notch performances, including Adam, but most notably, his 14-year-old daughter Sunny Sandler in the film’s lead role. It’s a coming-of-age movie about a young Jewish girl and while many of its tropes are familiar, it’s mostly fresh, breezy, and hilarious.

Based on the book by Fiona Rosenbloom, YOU ARE SO NOT INVITED TO MY BAT MITZVAH focuses on two 12-year-old BFFs – Stacy Friedman (Sunny Sandler) and Lydia Rodriguez (Samantha Lorraine). They’re both fun, intelligent kids in junior high who are consumed with making their upcoming bat mitzvahs something just shy of the scale of England crowning a new monarch. Their preparations for the dual events drive the story here, mining lots of laughs from their coming-out party excesses, their junior high anxieties, and their helicopter parents.

Screenwriter Alison Peck works in all the touchstones of being a 12-year-old girl from embarrassing first periods to all-consuming crushes on boys to the competition between cliques. It’s similar to films like EIGHT GRADE, John Hughes’s oeuvre, CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH, and even this year’s ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET, and I mean that as a high compliment. Peck’s prose plays exceptionally well here and the story mines a lot of Jewish touchstones too, from its numerous religious rituals to some of its Borscht Belt-style of ethnic humor.

In lesser hands, so much teen angst and Jewish schtick might’ve come off as excessive, but director Sammi Cohen has a deft touch. She never underlines already strong gags and she keeps the reins on all of her performers, be they eight or eighty. Thankfully, none of the child actors here play in that too-the-rafters style that mars most Disney Channel kid shows. Even the eccentric Rabbi Rebecca character in the story, essayed by SNL’s Sarah Sherman, remains a grounded creation despite being a bit of a loon. Cohen does well with all the adults in her cast too, including Adam Sandler and Idina Menzel as Stacy’s bemused parents, Sandler’s wife Jackie in the role of Lydia’s ‘cool mom’, and Luis Guzman as Lydia’s immature father.

Cohen has her cinematographer Ben Hardwicke shoot everything buoyant and bright, so it all bobs along beautifully, often accompanied by pop ditties from contemporary artists like Dua Lippa, Selena Gomez, Pitbull, and HAIM. And even when the script hits dramatic beats that you can see coming, such as both girls falling for the same boy or an embarrassing video inadvertently getting shown at a party, this production plays them cleverly and never belabors any bits.

Everything moves fast, each scene has a point, and miraculously, is consistently savvy and very amusing from the opening moments to its end credits. Special kudos to the production design team for their exquisitely detailed sets and costume designer Jordy Scheinberg as well for the trendy but tasteful fashion selection for the girls. Sure, there are a lot of religious references that will fly over the heads of most audiences, but the story feels wholly universal throughout.

Best of all, in both Sunny Sandler and Samantha Lorraine, the production has two very accomplished young actresses holding center stage. They deliver the zippy zingers, excel at the physical comedy, and play the pathos for all its worth. And despite the angsty sections of the story which require them to be bad seeds or mope about, they never lose the audience’s sympathy. That’s how lovable they are.

YOU ARE SO NOT INVITED TO MY BAT MITZVAH is a genuine sleeper, a small but shrewd character-driven piece that is both a hoot and heartfelt. It is also the kind of modest film that Netflix should be investing more of its time and money in instead of labored efforts like their string of big-budget actioners built around the likes of Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot. Character makes for great storytelling, not stunts. And this uncut gem from the Sandlers proves it.

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