“You’re So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah” is the sophomore feature from “Crush” director Sammi Cohen, but the film is very much focused on a specific junior high experience familiar to Jewish kids and their friends: the Bat Mitzvah, a coming-of-age ceremony (usually accompanied by a big party) to mark the transition into adulthood.
Based on Fiona Rosenbloom’s novel of the same name, the film stars Adam Sandler alongside his wife Jackie Sandler and daughters Sunny (who plays the Bat Mitzvah girl herself Stacy Friedman) and Sadie (who plays older sister Ronnie). It’s a classic teen movie, a genre that has been much neglected over the past few years in favor of superheroes and recycled IP. The sweet and simple plot sees Stacy and her best friend Lydia (Samantha Lorraine) preparing for their Bat Mitzvahs when their friendship blows up as they fight over a boy
Before the film’s Netflix premiere on Aug. 25, Cohen sat down to talk with Variety about how the project came together, what it was like representing Jewish culture on screen and the experience of directing the entire Sandler family.
How did you first get involved in this film?
I had just finished my first feature, “Crush,” this coming-of-age comedy that was very much normalizing the queer experience. And I was like, “Okay, I made a movie for the gays and I really wanted to make a movie for young Jews.” I’m really interested in these parts of my identity that I want to see more on screen. And that coincided with [Adam] Sandler looking for a young Jewish director who could relate to the story: the kids, the culture and how it needed to be told through a modern lens.
One thing everyone is talking about is the casting, given that Sandler’s entire family appears in the movie. How did that happen?
Sunny and Sadie were attached when I came on board, I knew I’d be working with them — that was part of my excitement, getting to work with the girls — and then we built out the cast from there. Adam came on board to play Danny, Jackie [played Lydia’s mom] Gabi and then we found Samantha, who plays Lydia. It really came from the girls and we built the world around them.
And how did you get the legendary Idina Menzel to play Stacy and Ronnie’s mom?
She is the best. Adam really loved working with her on “Uncut Gems.” I joke that “Bat Mitzvah” is like the happy side of their marriage, the prelude to “Uncut Gems.” We wanted the Friedman family to feel warm, sweet, goofy, normal, relatable; she was just the perfect fit. And she’s also incredibly talented and on top of that is just a really lovely human being.
What was it like directing a real-life family? Was it challenging to break ingrained habits or ways of relating to each other?
There wasn’t a huge struggle for me in terms of working with them. Adam plays dad to his daughters, but they’re able to detach. When we enter the Friedman house and we’re making the movie, it’s its own thing. I think there’s such a beautiful natural chemistry you get — I love that moment in the car when Adam fake-spills the coffee on her. There are just these beautiful little moments that feel so slice-of-life. But Adam gave the girls space to do their own thing. Everyone had space to do what they do best, but there’s also support when you needed it.
How much did you look to the book for ideas and inspiration?
The book was written in 2001, and it’s such a good snapshot of that moment in time. The heart of the movie, like the heart of who Stacy is, that really carries through [from the book]. But it was important for me that the movie was a more progressive and a more modern telling of the book. It’s more inclusive, queer, body positive and progressive when it comes to things like social issues and family dynamics and gender.
And you updated the music, since Este Haim is credited on the soundtrack and other artists referenced in the film include Dua Lipa and Olivia Rodrigo, who was born after the original book came out.
Anytime I make a film, one of the first things I do is I start putting together a playlist for the movie, and then each of the characters have a playlist of music they listen to. I think with coming of age movies in general music is so important — it’s a character in and of itself. And like, music is everything at a Bat Mitzvah, and it’s also everything to a 13 year old.
Did you look to classic teen movies for inspiration while working on “Bat Mitzvah”?
Absolutely. The spirit of this film really celebrates the spirit of films like “Clueless” and the John Hughes catalogue and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” And you know, our production design was really informed [by those films]. Like in the Friedman house, Stacy’s bedroom is a little homage to “Sixteen Candles,” the Friedman kitchen is a little homage to “Ferris Bueller.” I think I’ve always loved the coming of age genre. With “Bat Mitzvah” specifically, you’ll find a lot of the nuances of indie filmmaking, but with these big classic comedic swings, and we referenced everything from “Shiva Baby” to “Mean Girls.” There’s even a little homage to John Hughes himself in the movie theatre scene, if you look at the marquee.
Are there any others Easter eggs viewers should look out for?
There’s always Happy Madison easter eggs. You’ll see the number 23 a lot. The name of the mall is an homage to the Sandler family grandparents. There’s a lot of cute little personal Easter eggs in there. There’s some of the artwork from “Crush,” my first movie, in Stacy’s bedroom.
We wanted the movie to feel really authentic and realistic. Jordy Scheinberg, our costume designer, and myself, we talked to Sunny and Sadie a lot even before we started making the film: “What do you guys wear? Where do you shop?” There is this notion that kids are like, [influenced by] Kylie Jenner and this injectable [culture] and have to look presentable and glossed up all the time. It’s actually not realistic. Like these kids are wearing pajama pants to school, that’s the truth.
We wanted Stacy to feel like a real kid, and that’s why she wears PJ pants and T-shirts. A lot of movies are aspirational and I love that about, like, “Clueless.” But I really wanted this to feel like real kids that you know and see in real life, and Adam did too. That’s why Sunny, when she runs to Lydia’s house, she’s sweaty. Her hair’s up in a bun. They don’t necessarily approach everything the way we think they do.
What was it like bringing Jewish culture to the screen in a very front and center way?
I think, even before getting into the specifics, learning about who you are and who you want to be in the world is a very Jewish experience, but it’s also a universal experience. So it’s really fun to be able to celebrate this thing that I know and love and to make Jewish people feel seen, but to also give people a window into this world. They might not know about it, but they can relate to how you feel and those things we all go through.
As far as the Judaism of it all, Sandler and I were both really excited to put this world that we know and love up on screen. This is a reform pocket of the world. It’s very progressive. I myself am a very progressive Jew: I’m queer and non-binary. The film doesn’t cover every single aspect of the Jewish experience but I think, at the heart of it, being Jewish is about community and family and coming together. It always feels warm and good and safe and “show up as you are.” And I think we’re excited to show that and weave that into the heart of the DNA of the movie. But it’s also fun to show these Bat Mitzvahs! Jews can throw a party. We love food, we love music, we love dancing. We are fun!