The growing pains and dramatic throes of girlhood can be character building, traumatic, and cathartic — for both cinematic protagonists and their audience. It’s certainly not an easy time for the heroine at the center of “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah,” whose impending rite-of-passage ushers in an adulthood she’s not quite ready to handle. Director Sammi Cohen and screenwriter Alison Peck bestow this hilarious, heartrending adaptation of Fiona Rosenbloom’s novel with an uplifting, effervescent vision and vitality, giving voice to a young Jewish girl’s struggle to figure out who she is before the most important night of her life so far.
Seventh grader Stacy Friedman (Sunny Sandler) is serious about her Bat Mitzvah … sorta. She’s put more thought into having a legendary party than studying the ceremonial text from the Torah. She has big dreams for a lavish New York City-themed bash, which would include a yacht on the Hudson River, superstar Olivia Rodrigo arriving on a jet ski to perform and a smooch from her crush Andy Goldfarb (Dylan Hoffman). The reality is Mom and Dad (played by reunited “Uncut Gems” co-stars Idina Menzel and Adam Sandler) draw a hard line. She’ll have to make do with a decorated hotel ballroom, DJ Schmuley (Ido Mosseri) spinning pop songs and no hope of landing a kiss from Andy. At least she can count on her childhood best friend Lydia Rodriguez Katz (Samantha Lorraine) to be at her side — or so she thinks.
A dare by the popular squad and a brash bid for Andy’s attention lands Stacy embarrassed and temporarily on the outs with Lydia. Swallowing her pride, she attends Lydia’s house party hoping to reconcile. Before she can, however, she finds her ride-or-die bestie making out with her crush. Lydia’s betrayal sends Stacy spiraling, causing her to do underhanded things, like passive-aggressively poison Andy against his newfound lady love, botch her Mitzvah Project helping the elderly and spitefully splice Lydia’s upcoming Bat Mitzvah entrance video with humiliating clips (which we just know will come back to haunt her). Stacy’s changing attitude is also noticed by Rabbi Rachel (Sarah Sherman), who warns her that she needs to shape up or there will be no party in her future.
Cohen and screenwriter Alison Peck innovatively harness and transform rom-com-inspired story beats (especially in the third act) to tell this relatable tale about self-reflection and self-acceptance. Playing like a cross between Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” and John Hughes’ “Sixteen Candles” in scale, scope and sound without being derivative, its characters, conflicts and conundrums are filled with potent, earned emotions. Sequences portraying a Carnivale-themed B’Nai Mitzvah for a non-binary teen and a sports-themed Bar Mitzvah for a boy broaden the film’s spectrum and reach, as sentiments on inclusion and exclusion supplement the larger thematic overtones.
Stacy’s journey from selfish to selfless is the primary focus. However, it’s meaningfully balanced with Lydia’s subtle secondary arc — hiding her true wants so she doesn’t hurt Stacy’s feelings, and struggling with her parents’ divorce. Their friendship is filled with complexity, as both make mistakes and conciliatory overtures, keeping it from devolving into the toxicity of two women sniping at each other like in “Bride Wars.”
Cohen, who turned in a solid first feature last year with “Crush,” has a gift for amplifying teenage angst and anxieties in a way that doesn’t condescend or pander to its target market, and doesn’t offend its adult audience. Cohen continues to mature in visual dexterity, utilizing squeeze zooms, fantastical asides and fluid camera pans to root us in the protagonist’s psyche. To indicate Stacy’s world being rattled post-betrayal, cinematographer Ben Hardwicke turns down the brightness on the saturated-color palette almost imperceptibly. Brian Robinson’s edits provide a crisp electricity and comedic timing, most notably in the frenzied sequence where Stacy ruthlessly cobbles together Lydia’s entrance video, overlapping images at a brisk pace. Este Haim and Amanda Yamate’s score gives scenes warmth and a propulsive drive.
Though Adam Sandler, tackling the role of caring dad, and Jackie Sandler, playing Lydia’s spendthrift mom, bring a sense of sweetness and amusement, this is really their daughters’ show. Real life Sandler sisters Sunny and Sadie — who plays Stacy’s sassy yet supportive older sister Ronnie — are compelling performers. The camera and dialogue capture the genuine, natural ease of their sisterly bond, whether they’re playfully teasing or placating one another. Sunny is a revelation, nimbly negotiating the quick-shifting tone of the material from silly to sincere. She can toss out a one-liner and flex her skills at slapstick, yet brings an insightful vulnerability to the role of an ordinary girl seeking the extraordinary. Lorraine delivers the goods as her friend-turned-foe with assured earnestness.
It would’ve been nice to spend more screen time with Stacy’s other friends Nikki (Millie Thorpe) and Tara (Dylan Dash) since they both add a delightful comedic presence, and perhaps less with the running gag of DJ Schmuley’s vehicular mishaps. Still, what’s there is funny, lovely and surprisingly poignant. Representing the awkwardness that goes along with growing up is a tough feat, but these filmmakers prove themselves capable and clever, and that feels every bit as celebratory as the titular event.