Lasciate ogne speranza, voi chi’intrate. How did it come to this? At the height of his power in Hollywood in 1999, Adam Sandler founded his own production company as a way to continue making the movies he enjoys. Over the years, his films have slowly morphed into a pariah on the landscape of big-budget studio comedies, becoming thinly veiled excuses for lavish vacations. But do they truly represent the nadir in the career of one of comedy’s once-brightest stars? Are there any hidden or underrated gems? Is there such a thing as too few fart jokes? Will I retain any sense of sanity by the end of this? Join Ben Sears and find out, as we venture to the Happy Valley. (If and as Happy Madison Productions releases new films, as they have in this instance, Ben will return to the Happy Valley.)
Making a successful coming-of-age film boils down to one thing — sincerity.
If the filmmakers or actors don’t treat the material seriously enough, it comes off as inauthentic or cloying, or like the talent is sneering at the characters or story. In early adolescence, every little thing feels like the most important moment of your entire life. Whether it’s your biggest crush going out of his way to talk to you, the popular girl complimenting your outfit or your parents singing along to an old song in the car, it all needs to be sincerely delivered.
We talked previously about Hollywood conspiring to make two or more similar films in the same calendar year, and 2023 shows that the gambit is still alive and well. I went into You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah knowing it would have some similarities to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. beyond having two of the longest titles of the year. But the thematic parallels are there as well. Both films treat their protagonists with sincerity, which goes a long way, although the former’s material is decidedly sillier. Both concern adolescent girls on their journeys to womanhood, one from a religious standpoint and one in a biological manner. And, strangely enough, both films feature its protagonist speaking to god through voiceover narration.
The Sandler family has been prominently featured several times throughout this project but never have they been portrayed as a literal family unit as they are in Bat Mitzvah, which debuts Friday on Netflix. Sunny Sandler — Adam and Jackie Sandler’s youngest daughter, who plays Stacy Friedman here — has a filmography that solely consists of bit parts in her father’s projects but is given room to shine here. She begins the film planning her bat mitzvah, one of the most important days of any Jewish person’s life, along with her best friend Lydia (Samantha Lorraine). The film sees them put through the ringer of every universal adolescent experience, even when filtered through uniquely Jewish events. Stacy pines after her crush, the brain-dead hunk Andy (Dylan Hoffman). But when Lydia falls for him, a rift is created that leads to the bulk of the film’s drama. Stacy also clashes with her parents (played by Idina Menzel and Adam Sandler, reuniting in a very different tone after Uncut Gems), her older sister, Ronnie (real-life older sister Sadie Sandler), and the group of popular girls at school.
It’s nothing new for a Happy Madison film to adapt previous material, whether you’re speaking literally or in terms of Academy Award standards, which includes sequels and feature-length adaptations of short films. But it’s rare for HM to make a straightforward adaptation; in this case it’s adapting Fiona Rosenbloom’s novel of the same name. I do not know why Adam Sandler chose You Are So Not Invited as his latest project; reading material is sparse for this, and Netflix only released the trailer 15 days before it drops on the platform. But I have to imagine he saw a golden opportunity to give the spotlight to the rest of his family while still getting higher billing than them. Perhaps he related to the Jewish experience and saw another chance to share his Jewish heritage, from which he’s certainly never shied away.
As Stacy, Sunny Sandler gives one of the better performances throughout this entire project, as she navigates every hormone-induced twist and turn. Her chemistry with Lorraine goes a long way to sell the devastation of their falling out, regardless of how predictable some of the story beats are. Maybe it’s not the revelatory performance of the year, but I’m hereby invested in seeing what Sunny Sandler and Lorraine do next. The verisimilitude of the Sandler family acting together, plus Menzel’s familiarity with Adam Sandler, helps to sell the family dynamic in ways that previous Happy Madison films have not.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Are You There God? with You Are So Not Invited despite their similarities. While both films feature good-to-great performances (seriously, if you haven’t seen Rachel McAdams in Margaret, you’re missing out) and concern themselves with similar subject matter, there are a handful of moments that hold the Happy Madison film back. Allison Peck’s screenplay lags in the middle third a bit and throws in a few too many HM-style tics. While I do appreciate the even-handed portrayal of the youths of 2023, Adam Sandler’s role for most of the film boils down to “Kids these days!”-style jabs and deadpan reactions to the hormonal swings of his wife and daughters.
Still, I continue to come back to the emotional sincerity of the film, and I’m encouraged more than anything. Were You Are So Not Invited made in the earlier years of Adam Sandler’s career, it would have been much more slapstick-y and un-relatable. We’ve seen Adam Sandler’s growth and emotional maturity come from unexpected places in the later stages of this project, and though there have been some steps backwards recently, there is a palpable sense of affection that Adam Sandler puts toward giving his family the spotlight — and they didn’t even have to go on a lavish vacation to do so. Now that’s progress.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: The biggest surprise of the film, for me, was how protracted Adam Sandler’s role is. We’ve talked before about how he’s a generous comedian, willing to let his friends and co-stars share the spotlight, but his screen time here was genuinely unexpected. However, it’s unfair to call his role a cameo, so I’ll go with Jackie Hoffman, who simply shows up for a scene or two and shows why she belongs in the Character Actor Hall of Fame.
- Just Go With It: The Happy Madison Promise. You had to know that Stacy’s mean-spirited video would get played in a public setting as soon as her mom sends it, but it strains credulity ever so slightly to say nobody laid eyes on it at all before playing it. Also not for nothing, there’s a scene where Stacy and her father attend a John Hughes retrospective at the movie theater, where all of Stacy’s classmates later show up. You cannot convince me that teens in 2023 are itching to see a John Hughes retrospective.
- Fart Joke Counter: There are a number of farts during the hateful montage Stacy puts together of Lydia.
- NEXT TIME: Adam Sandler returns to the animated musical world and reunites with The Week Of director Robert Smigel (hooray!) with Leo, coming November 21.