Producers: Adam Sandler, Tim Herlihy, Leslie Morgenstein and Elysa Koplovitz Director: Sammi Cohen Screenplay: Alison Peck Cast: Idina Menzel, Jackie Sandler, Adam Sandler, Sadie Sandler, Sunny Sandler, Samantha Lorraine, Dylan Hoffman, Sarah Sherman, Dan Bulla, Ido Mosseri, Jackie Hoffman, Zaara Kuttermeroor, Dean Scott Vazquez, Miya Cech, Dylan Dash, Millie Thorpe, Bruria Cooperman, Bunny Levine, Allison McKay and Luis Guzmán Distributor: Netflix
Imagine “Sixteen Candles” on steroids and wearing a yarmulke, and you’ll have some idea of the nature of this adaptation of Fiona Rosenbloom’s 2005 YA novel by writer Alison Peck and director Sammi Cohen—although categorizing it as the hopped-up sibling of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” wouldn’t be far off the mark either.
Coming from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company, “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah” is also the most egregious example of nepo-baby syndrome in moviemaking since Will Smith inflicted “After Earth” on the public—and his son Jaden—a decade ago.
The victim this time is Sandler’s daughter Sunny, probably a nice kid whose performance consists mostly of scrunching up her face into unbecoming poses; she’s not really ready for the big screen, and certainly not for the lead role she takes on here. She’s saddled with playing thirteen-year old Stacy Friedman, here the daughter of Danny (Sandler) and Bree (Idina Menzel) and younger sister of Ronnie (Sadie Sandler, also a daughter of Adam). Stacy’s BFF is Lydia Rodriguez (Samantha Lorraine), daughter of Gabi (Jackie Sandler, Adam’s wife) and Eli (Luis Guzmán), who are in the process of divorcing. Sunny and Lydia are classmates at the Hebrew school where flamboyant Rabbi Rebecca (Sarah Sherman) goes to extremes trying to connect with her charges, and where the campus heartthrob is soccer player Andy Goldfarb (Dylan Hoffman).
Stacy’s infatuated with Andy and dreams of going steady with him, though the closest she’s gotten is when she’s hit in the head by a soccer ball he’s kicked, none too expertly; otherwise he barely notices her. She has an obvious admirer in Matteo (Dean Scott Vazquez), a little kid from Ecuador who follows her around like a puppy, but she treats him pretty much like Andy treats her.
Still she tries desperately to attract Andy’s attention, even signing up as a volunteer at the senior living center where he visits (none too enthusiastically) his grandmother (Bruria Cooperman). She succeeds—not in a favorable way, alas—when she accepts a dare to jump off a cliff into a lake during a school outing. She’s not injured physically, but a mishap involving a blood-soiled sanitary pad turns triumph into disaster. It leads to a breakup with Lydia, who laughs with everybody else at her friend’s humiliation, and—even worse—proceeds to take up with Andy.
That explains the title, since the social life of this community seems to center around elaborate bar and bat mitzvahs where a freaky but popular DJ stage-named Schmuley (Ido Mosseri) invariably rules, and Stacy and Lydia are both preparing for their ceremonies. (How the families pay for these extravaganzas goes unremarked; the Friedmans look to be well-off, but it’s never apparent that Danny works—he just shuffles around in shorts and T-shirts all day—while Bree objects to paying for a wildly expensive bat mitzvah dress). Stacy starts posting catty remarks about Lydia online, and even prepares an embarrassing opening video for her onetime best friend’s event. And she opens herself up to being taken advantage of by Andy again.
No need to detail how all this ends; this is pure formula, and you know full well that the two girls will reconcile, Andy will be unmasked as the obnoxious brat he is, and all will turn out for the best. In the process stereotypes are regularly trotted out—Kym (Miya Cech), the stuck-up leader of the campus mean girl clique; Nikki (Millie Thorpe) and Tara (Dylan Dash), two schoolmates ever more outsiders than Stacy and Lydia who follow them around like pets, commenting sagely about the problems of adolescence; Jerry (Dan Bulla), the inept cantor; Zaara (Zaara Kuttermeroor), Ronnie’s sharp-eyed best friend; Irene (Jackie Hoffman), the mother always trying to interact with the kids; the elderly ladies (Bunny Levine and Allison McKay) who find today’s young people a troublesome wonder. Not to mention the nerdy kid pestering Schmuley about his playlist, or the geeky guys always trying futilely to hit on Ronnie and Zaara.
And it’s not merely the characters (and the people playing them, save for Guzmán, an oasis of amusing calm in his few scenes) but the situations that are desperately broad. Everything with Rabbi Rebecca is wildly over-the-top (including her interruption of Stacy and Andy smooching in the Temple), and Sandler’s lovably curmudgeonly asides are out of a bad stand-up routine. Everything about Mosseri’s DJ is irritatingly in-your-face, with a running gag about his vehicular mishaps cringingly bad.
But the material might not have been so awful if not delivered by Cohen and her technical team with such a sledgehammer. Aleksandra Marinkovich’s production design and Jordy Scheinberg’s costumes are grotesquely gaudy, and cinematographer Ben Hardwicke accentuates the garishness with his glaring visuals. To make matters worse, the whole things is frantically edited by Jamie Keeney and Brian Robinson, with hyper-cuts set to a near-constant barrage of pop songs delivered at ear-piercing volume; whatever remains of the original score by Este Haim and Amanda Yamate is barely noticeable. The total effect is like being trapped among the gyrating bodies of the young dancers in one of the numbers Schmuley programs, surrounded by a strobe-light show and endlessly pulsing music. The result is enervating rather than exhilarating, and far from entertaining.
If you’re looking for a story about an adolescent girl’s journey toward womanhood, “Margaret” is a much better bet than this frenetic Sandler family misfire.