It’s tempting to call the latest from Netflix, an amoral and greedy studio so stubborn that it would rather implode than pay the striking unions a fair deal, an Adam Sandler film. But that would be wrong if only because Sandler himself is more of a presence than the main character. In addition, the movie is written and directed by women about women.
Sammi Cohen’s You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah looks better than the average Netflix movie in that it looks and moves like a real movie. Cohen and Alison Peck’s script looks at teenage Jewish girlhood with a keen eye for how difficult it can be to navigate the time in someone’s life when they are very much a child and yet the threat of adulthood looms large. Thankfully, Sunny Sandler, who plays Stacy Friedman, makes us feel for her while cringing at her decisions.
Cohen and Peck make YASNIMBM a mixture of Eighth Grade and Frances Ha. Sandler’s Stacy desperately wants to be popular and date the cute Andy Goldfarb (Dylan Hoffman). A goal her best friend Lydia (Samantha Lorraine) supports. However, their friendship begins to be tested through Sunny’s own selfishness, along with simple misunderstandings that spiral out of control.
YASNIMBM is a movie fueled by secondhand embarrassment as Stacy actively destroys her friendships and social life seemingly, almost compulsively. Cohen and Ben Hardwicke’s camera does a wonderful job of giving us the reality and how Sunny interprets it. There are little moments that show us that perhaps Andy is meaner or shallower than Sunny would like to admit but that she ignores because she’s had the crush for so long she can’t admit it.
Or moments in which we see Lydia starting at Andy in the same way, and it occurs to us but not to Sunny that she may not be the only one who likes Andy. Part of what makes YASNIMBM so startling is how it is unafraid to make Stacey a spoiled brat. We watch hopelessly as she makes one horrible decision after another, oftentimes realizing it but helpless to do otherwise.
I’ll be honest that I wondered how Peck and Cohen would frame Stacy’s redemption arc, considering some of the stuff she did was borderline unforgivable. But shockingly, they found a way for Stacy not to get comeuppance but to grow and realize how she has hurt the one she loved the most, Lydia, and all over a stupid boy “who’s not even that good at soccer.”
At the center of YASNIMBM is a real focus on Jewish identity, or at least a certain upper-class Jewish identity. Adam Sandler, of course, plays Stacy’s dad, Danny, and the incomparable Idina Menzel plays her mom, Bree. The two are playing a more upbeat and healthy marriage than in Uncut Gems while also serving as a reminder that whoever is in charge of putting Menzel in movies is failing us all.
While it is true YASNIMBM is a Sandler family affair, with Stacy’s older sister Ronnie being played by Sunny’s real-life sister Sadie, and Lydia’s mom Gabi is played by Sandler’s real-life wife Jackie, it feels more like the neo-realism from Judd Apatow’s Funny People than straight up nepotism. Adam Sandler has an easy rapport with his two daughters, and it lends YASNIMBM a certain charm, especially in moments such as when he and Stacy get into a shouting match. The bit is classic Sandler caustic comedy that plays well because it’s offscreen, and their voices are heard while Bree and Jackie try to have a civil conversation. But it also plays into the love Sandler has for his daughters. There’s a way the three behave that says father and daughter are hard to replicate, with glimpses of genuine affection and tenderness that make YASNIMBM all the more effective.
The driving force of YASNIMBM, besides bat mitzvahs, is the profound intimacy of friendships between girls. In its most effective moments, Cohen captures the way Lydia and Stacy are like sisters in a way that she and Ronnie are but, at the same time, are not. Ronnie has her own Lydia in Zaara (Zaara Kuttemperoor). Ronnie and Zaara spend much of the movie watching horror films on their phone.
The bond between Stacy and Lydia is authentic. So much so that when Stacy becomes angry with Lydia over a moment too complicated to explain, the unease and feeling of severing a relationship is palpable. Cohen and Hardwicke find ways to illustrate Stacy’s growing loneliness as she drifts farther and farther away from Lydia and her other friends, Tara (Dylan Dash) and Nikki (Millie Thorpe). It feels like Stacy has performed a sort of spiritual amputation from her friend group, which fits with the themes of entering adulthood. Stacy begins to learn her actions have very real consequences and that part of being an adult is admitting when you messed up and making amends.
Cohen and Peck find ways to show Stacy approaching redemption before chickening out because admitting you screwed up is much harder than just digging in and continuing to be a little brat. They pull off a hattrick of making Stacy far from being a saint but also allow her enough humanity that we are rooting for her even as we see her making the wrong decision repeatedly. Rarely are girls this young afforded this much agency and freedom to be this flawed.
Boys will be boys, and girls will be demonized and judged for the same actions. Cohen and Peck embrace Stacy’s failings because, at thirteen, we are walking hormone bombs with the moral spine of a ramen noodle gone soggy. Cohen and Hardwicke’s camera never judge her, nor does Peck’s script; instead, it stands back and roots for her, hoping she will realize the mistakes she’s made before it’s too late.
Sunny Sandler simultaneously breaks your heart and pisses you off. She handles dialogue as well as her old man and has the charisma to go with it. If she weren’t good, then YASNIMBM would collapse, but it never even strains. Sandler and Lorraine feel natural together, and their slow drifting apart is all the more painful to watch because of how natural and relaxed they are together.
If anything, I found it odd how little of a role either Sandler’s Danny or Menzel’s Bree played. They are hardly absentee parents, but they are also not the paragons of wisdom we are used to seeing in movies like these. Instead, they do all they can as their daughter suffers, offering only love and advice if given the chance. Stacy is becoming an adult, and even though they wish they could do more, they often feel helpless.
Yet, they stand by, ready to help when called upon, because though it may be a growing distant memory, they too were young once. Cohen understands this as, unlike other films, it isn’t interested in mocking the current generation for who or what they are. Instead, she accepts them, but with maybe a few jabs at trends, but still looks at them with more love and understanding than most.
Images courtesy of Netflix
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