Director Sammi Cohen on making a Jewish bat mitzvah movie starring Adam Sandler and family

Long before helming the upcoming Netflix comedy You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah, director Sammi Cohen was a regular attendee of bar and bat mitzvahs — a type of coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish boys and girls — during her pre-teen years.

The movie is based on Fiona Rosenbloom’s 2001 book, roughly aligning with the time that Cohen grew up going to these religious ceremonies (which, crucially, is sometimes paired with a big dance party). But a lot can change in 20-plus years, and the director wanted to make the movie feel fresh for a younger audience.

“It was important for me to make the movie feel a little more inclusive and queer, body positive, progressive, Gen Z when it came to things like social issues and family dynamics, gender and all that,” said Cohen during an interview with CBC News.

That also included doing some field research. The director and members of their crew went to a handful of bar and bat mitzvah parties in Toronto, where the movie was filmed last summer, to get a sense of what was in and what was out. The Cha Cha Slide? Still a staple. No more high heels — only Air Force 1 sneakers. And the kids requested Dua Lipa and Olivia Rodrigo from a DJ, not NSYNC or Christina Aguilera.

WATCH | The trailer for You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah: 

“We just wanted this to feel like a modern telling of a story and make this feel of today in the bat mitzvah world and in how these kids talk in general,” said Cohen.

Those generational details are peppered throughout You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah, which follows Stacy (Sunny Sandler) as she tries to balance the religious requirements of a bat mitzvah — like learning a Torah portion and completing a good deed project — with what she thinks are the far more important social requirements of a bat mitzvah: throwing an unforgettable party to mark her entry into adulthood.

Stacy’s pitch to mom Bree (Idina Menzel) and dad Danny (Adam Sandler, Sunny’s real-life dad) is a New York-themed extravaganza with a mojito bar, a yacht, and their Jewish community’s go-to musical entertainment, DJ Shmuley. At least one of these is vetoed. 

But her relationship with lifelong bestie Lydia starts to go awry after the former has an embarrassing menstruation mishap in front of a group of popular kids, including her crush, a Star-of-David-sporting boy named Andy Goldfarb. 

“The heart of the movie is this platonic love story between these two best friends, and there’s something so universal in that experience,” said Cohen. “But what’s really unique and exciting for me is you get to kind of fold in these Jewish lessons and Jewish experiences.”

As the rest of the story unfolds, Stacy — with guidance from goofy Rabbi Rebecca (Saturday Night Live star Sarah Sherman)  — learns what it means to really do a mitzvah. As it turns out, going to a retirement home to hang out with your crush and his grandma doesn’t count.

“This idea of doing a mitzvah, doing good for others, forgiveness, making mistakes, not doing things perfectly, but moving through that together … There’s a very Jewish side to all of this that makes Jewish kids feel seen and celebrated,” said Cohen.

A teen girl is shown frowning as confetti flutters around her during a big party.
Sunny Sandler, centre, as Stacy Friedman in the film You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah. (Netflix)

Sandler family has ‘natural chemistry’ 

Adam Sandler, who co-produced the movie, tapped his own real-life family to star in the film. While his youngest daughter Sunny plays the lead role, his older daughter Sadie plays sister Ronnie and his wife Jackie plays Lydia’s mom, Gabi. Menzel previously co-starred with Sandler in 2019’s Uncut Gems.

Sunny Sandler previously had small roles in her dad’s movies Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2, as well as Jack and Jill and Pixels with her sister Sadie, who was also in Bedtime Stories and Hotel Transylvania

“I kind of want to make movies with the Sandlers forever,” said Cohen, who spent time with the family while the film was in production. They were brought onto the movie by Sandler, who sought out a young Jewish filmmaker to helm the movie and refresh the source material.

Appropriately, You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah! makes a few references to another beloved coming-of-age-book with Jewish themes: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, which was also recently adapted into a film and re-energized for a new generation.

“There’s a natural chemistry you get with the Sandlers that I think is just this beautiful layer on top of the film,” Cohen added. One of their favourite scenes in the movie is a small one between Sandler and Sunny, where he pretends to spill coffee on her while they’re in the car, making her laugh.

“We found that just during rehearsal and it’s just a real [moment], you know, a little peek into Adam as a dad making its way into the character of Danny as a dad,” they said.

“I think we both also knew the kids knew what was cool more than either of us.”

You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah premieres on Netflix on August 25.

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