Home EVENTS ‘You’re So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah’ Strong on Faith, Weak On Enjoyability

‘You’re So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah’ Strong on Faith, Weak On Enjoyability

‘You’re So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah’ Strong on Faith, Weak On Enjoyability


(REVIEW) Adam Sandler’s latest comedy starring his daughters has some incredible conversations around faith and family — but is crushed under the weight of a mountain of painfully unfunny jokes and a thoroughly unlikable protagonist.

“You’re So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah” features Sandler’s daughter Sadie Sandler as Stacy Friedman, a teenage girl who wants two things: to have the best bat mitzvah ever (along with her best friend Lydia) and to kiss the boy of her middle school dreams.

But when Lydia gets the boy instead of her, Stacy aims to sabotage her friend — even if it means losing her. That causes a rift with her family, including her father, played by Adam Sandler, and mother, played by Idina Menzel.

READ: Why Faith-Based ‘True Story’ Movies Are So Often Untrue

There is an unspoken understanding when most people talk about “faith-based films” that they’re really talking about Christian movies. That’s because the vast majority of American movies that deal with faith at all — particularly within the “faith-based industry” — are run primarily by Christians.

And yet, Christianity isn’t the only religion in America, even if it is the majority. And with so many Jews working in the movie industry, it’s sort of surprising there are so few movies dedicated to the Jewish faith. Typically, portrayals of Jewish culture are in the Woody Allen vein, which are primarily secularized — except perhaps for a joke about God here or there.

Even when religious aspects are portrayed, there aren’t a lot of examples of Jews really wrestling with, or exploring, their relationship with God in a personal way. You have “Fiddler on The Roof,” and Sandler’s “Eight Crazy Nights” and then? It’s hard to think of many others.

And that’s where Sandler comes in. Sandler is a singular talent. He is undisputedly a great actor (as seen in movies like “Uncut Gems”) and has made many popular films (“Happy Gilmore”) and some very bad films (“Jack and Jill”) and even some very popular (and very bad) films (“Click”). He’s also one of the mainstream Hollywood comedians most likely to make explicitly Jewish material, from his Hanukkah song to his “Eight Crazy Nights” movie (which might be the only totally holiday film in a sea of Christmas films) to now “You’re So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah.”

Unfortunately, this movie inherits the good and bad of Sandler’s other comedies. It has heart and sincerity, but also deeply unpleasant and rather unfunny humor that makes it almost impossible to sit through.

There are a few things in this movie that do land. The most charming stuff by far happens in the interactions between Sandler (who plays the father) and his fictional and real-life daughters. They feel like a real family, and the banter, both sincere and witty, is a delight. The juxtaposition between how obviously awful the boy crush is and how much everyone is obsessed with him can also be funny. Some of the jokes with Rabbi Rebecca (played by “SNL” star Sarah Sherman) when she’s teaching the students in Hebrew school have a sincere charm. I nearly doubled over with laughter when she sang her “God is random” song.

One of the biggest surprises and strongest elements of the movie is its portrayal of Jewish faith. “You So Aren’t Invited To My Bat Mitzvah” makes engaging with God on a personal and corporate basis a consistent and natural part of the whole story.

Stacy, throughout the story, wrestles with whether she’s being selfish or selfless (obviously, more often the former). She talks to God about what she’s going through (very reminiscent of “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” such that it might be an intentional homage). When Daniel Friedman (Sandler’s character) is arguing with Stacy that she needs to go through with her Bat Mitzvah, his heartbreaking and sincere admonishment is that “when you stand there, you say in front of God and all of us that you want to be a part of this!”

One particularly dark and heartbreakingly hilarious scene is when the kids in Hebrew school ask why God lets bad things happen. Rabbi Rebecca responds by pulling out her ukulele and singing “God is random, God is random.” Despite all this, Stacy is still praying to God by the end of the movie.

As a Christian, there’s much I can relate to in this. what I don’t directly relate to I can appreciate. I can relate to praying to God even as I have a million doubts and questions and what I’ve been taught about Him. I can relate to being caught between my individual identity and my communal religious one. I can relate to wrestling as a community with the deep and seemingly unanswerable questions about God, which authority figures often have unsatisfying answers to. And yet, despite this, my relationship with God remains to this day. This is actually one of the most understated, but realistic, parts of the movie.

One thing that I don’t relate to as much is the answers given about why God allows suffering. Within Christianity, although it’s a problem people wrestle with, there is a pretty standard answer: God wants free will. God wants creatures who love him and love virtue because they freely choose it. He did that with the first humans, Adam and Eve (whether you are a Christian who sees that as literal or metaphorical), and that continues to this day.

I am a person who has known some suffering in life, and I personally find that answer fairly satisfying. As does my friend Dr. Zak Schmoll, a Christian author and apologist who is mostly paralyzed. We discussed his book, where he argues for the free will interpretation of both human evil and natural evil on The Overthiners podcast.

Watching this movie, I was curious whether Jewish communities (particularly Reform ones like the one portrayed in the film) interacted with that explanation at all. I asked my friend Rachael Alexandria, a YouTuber and animator known by the name ILoveKimPossibleALot (or “KP”) who grew up in the Reform Jewish community.

She said the portrayal in the movie is pretty accurate and that the “free will” explanation didn’t have much traction because the memory of the Holocaust remained both too painful and recent.

“When you pitch those kind of things, that makes sense,” she said, referring to the idea of free will being an answer to the problem of evil.

But, she added, “The Holocaust is in such recent memory and such directly targeted towards the Jewish people that they’re just like, [talking to God] ‘My dude, that one time.”

That brings up the issue of why you would stay in a religion where you really believe “God is random” as the best answer to the question of suffering. One thing that is sort of shown in “You’re So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah” but that I observe even more in a lot of my minor interactions with Jewish culture, is that I have a hard time relating to is a phenomenon of staying in a religion culturally. Typically, in Christianity, if you stop believing in God, or believing your God is good, you leave the faith. That’s why Christian denominations where it is primarily a cultural practice have experienced the highest attrition rates.

Rachael Alexandria explained this as a function of the Jewish identity and the religious identity being so deeply intertwined that you couldn’t have one without the other.

“I think it’s also just tell the Nazis to suck it because especially with a lot of the political climate can be tricky sometimes,” she said. “The fact that we’re still going despite everything is a statement in itself and that’s what people kind of get invested in.”

The movie is ultimately a coming-of-age comedy and the screwball antics of a teenager. This means that the vast majority of the movie is following Stacy’s journey and the laughs that are supposed to be generated by her attempts to get what she wants. It’s therefore a really big problem when that girl isn’t at all likable and her antics aren’t that funny. Stacy is a hodge-podge of random, surface-level teen stereotypes. She’s whinny to her parents, shallow in her desire for romance and popularity and catty when she doesn’t get her way.

Her core motives are entirely selfish (have the “best bat mitzvah ever” and get the boy) and she betrays and manipulates everyone around her to get what she wants. That means you are spending a majority of your time with someone who you actively dislike and really don’t want to have a happy ending. I would say the movie is what Sandler’s thinks teenage girls are like, but the movie was entirely written and directed by women.

This can work if the protagonist is entertaining. “Edge of Seventeen” and “Can You Forgive Me?” portray seemingly irredeemable female protagonists who must face the fact that they are the bad guys. But they are both really witty smart alecks who come up with plans to get what they want. At the same time, they are still entertaining enough that you’re interested in seeing how they get away with it.

But none of Stacy’s antics lead to anything that’s remotely funny. Every scene depicts a plan she comes up with that’s either basic or outlandish. You just know it will blow up in her face. It’s just too predictable. What punch line there is is often so gross and mean-spirited that it’s unpleasant to watch. Some jokes were only barely funny the first time — like the slow mo of the boy crush every time he appears — and are repeated for no reason. This would have been less egregious if the focus had been on a protagonist that we liked and we were invested in, but her unlikeability killed that.

This is disappointing because when the movie is authentic and not trying so hard to be a “ yuck yuck comedy” (without the comedy), the film can be really tender. And the exploration of faith is some of the best I’ve seen in a movie about any faith. The problem is that the good things take up, at best, 20% of the movie. The rest is a cringe-fest that is hard to justify sitting through.

Hopefully, the Sandler family can grow what is good in this film and weed out what’s weak in time for their next project. They have a lot to offer with their mainstream and overt, yet nuanced and vulnerable, takes on faith and family that makes the world better when it’s included. Even this Christian can relate to that.

“You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah” is available to stream now on Netflix.


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