You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah director on the 'magic' of the Sandler family

You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah director on the 'magic' of the Sandler family

"Your bat mitzvah is the first day of your adult life," Stacy Friedman says via voiceover at the beginning of You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah. "And everyone knows an iconic adult life hinges on how it starts."

The teen comedy, streaming on Netflix today and based on the book of the same name by Fiona Rosenbloom, stars Sunny Sandler as Stacy Friedman. Stacy's a 13-year-old girl who's doing everything in her power to make her bat mitzvah as epic as possible. That means convincing her parents Danny (Sunny's real-life dad Adam Sandler) and Bree (Idina Menzel) to get a virgin mojito bar, winning over her crush Andy Goldfarb (Dylan Hoffman), and partying side by side with her best friend Lydia Rodriguez Katz (Samantha Lorraine). But her plans soon go kaput when she discovers Lydia kissing Andy, the ultimate act of best friend betrayal.

Director Sammi Cohen spoke to EW about making a coming-of-age movie that mixes comedy and drama, how they updated the source material for a modern audience, and why now is the right time to tell a story about Jews just having fun.

You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah
You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah

Courtesy of Netflix Idina Menzel, Samantha Lorraine, Adam Sandler, Sunny Sandler, and Sadie Sandler in 'You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah'

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you familiar with the 2005 book before signing on to direct?

SAMMI COHEN: I reread the book before we went into making this movie, and the book is great. It's like a snapshot of 2005, but with the movie, I'd say this is a more progressive, modern telling of that source material. I think the movie definitely is a little more inclusive — queer, body positive, and progressive — when it comes to the social issues, family dynamics, gender, and all that stuff, just to update it.

The movie not only stars real-life father and daughter Adam and Sunny Sandler, but also Sadie Sandler as Stacy's sister Ronnie, and mom Jackie Sandler as Lydia's mom Gabi Rodriguez Katz. What stood out to you watching Adam, Jackie, Sunny, and Sadie work together and play off of each other in scenes?

It's kind of this magic. I don't think I'll ever experience something quite like this [again]. It's almost surreal because, first off, the Sandlers just made me a part of the family. I never felt like the outsider, I never felt like a guest. And what's incredible to watch is they do that with community. I think community and family are such pillars of being a Jewish person, and the Sandlers have this way of really making everyone feel like family and feel at home. And there's this sense of ease and show up as you are. When you feel like you're around family, you can just be more yourself. And that, I think, elicits just funnier jokes and there's less of a filter on everything. You can kind of just drop your shoulders and relax and have fun.

Adam is doing everything right. He's producing, he's acting, he's being a dad. The whole family — him, the girls, Jackie — they're all really talented and they are the most hardworking group of people I think I've ever met. And Sadie and Sunny in particular were really interested in the filmmaking.... The cast of kids as a whole, some of them want to be writers and directors, and that was just a fun thing too, to see and help foster that kind of creative itch as well.

You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah
You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah

Courtesy of Netflix Sunny Sandler, Samantha Lorraine, Sadie Sandler, Zaara Kuttemperoor, Idina Menzel, and Adam Sandler in 'You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah'

What preparation went into the big fight scene between Danny and Stacy?

I love those real grounded, dramatic scenes. In a really sweet way they dropped into the characters and they did the scene, but there was this moment from Sunny of, I don't want to fight with my dad, I love my dad. But she's clearly gotten the Sandler gene. You hear some of that dialogue off camera when we hop downstairs and we did film the whole scene just so that we could really do that through and through and let them live in that heated tense moment that we've all had with our parents.

How did you go about capturing the emotional moments in the movie — the lake scene, Stacy and Lydia's falling out, etc. — to make them feel real yet palatable for a younger audience? 

As far as making everything real, I think leaning into how heightened all of these emotions feel when you're 13, everything feels bigger because oftentimes it's the first time you're experiencing these heightened situations or emotional states, and the first time is always kind of the biggest peak. I wanted to foster a really safe environment where they could just let it out and there was no filter, there was no block. I love working with young talent, partially because they don't have the adult filter on yet, and they are a little more free somehow — it's a really wonderful thing. But the kids got to know each other starting with rehearsals and them forming these real relationships and spending time together. This is a comedy, but I think oftentimes our minds become so binary: It's comedy or drama. And I actually think the world is not that binary, and you can't have one without the other.

Sunny and the actress who played Lydia, Samantha Lorraine, had such great on-screen chemistry as best friends. Did they know each other before filming this movie?

They were not friends before, but they quickly became best friends. In the audition process, we read a bunch of kids for Lydia, and when Sunny was reading opposite Sam, the scene was incredible. We auditioned a comedic scene and then the scene at the door where they fight, and the scene itself, I was blown away — they have great on-camera chemistry. But what was interesting was after the scene when they were just engaging as people. It's like when you meet someone and it's like, "Oh, I feel like I've known you forever, and somehow you already have inside jokes and you're already finishing each other's sentences before and after." I was just watching these two 13-year-olds interact, and I went, oh, that's platonic love at first sight. It was really kind of the off-screen moments that sealed the deal. It's hard to find that, it's rare.

You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah
You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah

Courtesy of Netflix Samantha Lorraine, Sunny Sandler, and Dylan Hoffman in 'You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah'

Was Sarah Sherman's Rabbi Rebecca written into the script exactly how she's portrayed in the movie? How much of that was Sherman's own flair?

We definitely wanted Sarah in this movie to bring Sarah to the table. We're all big fans of hers. Originally in the first draft I read it was a male rabbi. I grew up with a female rabbi — I'm from L.A. and it's a reform synagogue and more progressive. But I talked to Adam and the team, and I was really kind of gung-ho about a female rabbi or a queer rabbi, and he was all about it. So Sarah was top of mind. She's warm and colorful and goofy and has that very likable, goofy personality that feels very Jewish and also feels like this modern rabbi that we wanted to showcase.

How important was it to you to include Jewish humor in the script?

It is so relatable, and a part of what got me so excited about this movie is there is no bat mitzvah movie before this. This is such a feel-good movie, and it really gets to showcase this fun, goofy, silly side to our world. Alison Peck is an incredible writer. And we had all this really authentic casting with Idina Menzel and Sarah and Adam and the girls, and Jackie — so much of the cast that you see on screen is Jewish and I'm Jewish. So it just kind of grew. The script already had so much to work with and work from, and then we couldn't help ourselves. We're Jews, we wanted to add as much of that in there. Adam is the sweet, goofy Jewish dad who's going to make Jewish dad jokes, and there's so much in the Hebrew school that just feels so relatable, and I am excited for Jewish kids to have this. I would've loved this movie as a kid.

You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah
You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah

Courtesy of Netflix Sunny Sandler and Adam Sandler in 'You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah'

Why is now the right time for a movie like this?

I think it's important to tell a Jewish story right now for a lot of reasons, but it's also important to speak to that universal message. There's a lot of difficult things that we're all up against, and you don't have to be Jewish to understand what it feels like to feel the weight of the world at 13, and frankly to understand being Jewish and how difficult this time in a kid's life is, whether you're 13 or 13 and Jewish. This movie is really a chance to bring people together and to celebrate our similarities and not put up the walls that focus on what makes us different. It's reminding everyone that we share certain feelings and life experiences and traumas and personal challenges, and we're all just trying our best — we're all just trying to figure it out.

On a lighter note, I think it's fun to say "Hey, Jews can have fun. We know how to throw a party." There's a lot of Jewish movies that need to be made, and they're heavy and they're about a time in our history that was really traumatic. Sandler and I, we were excited because this one is so relatable to all people in a certain sense, and I think it's fun also to show the Hebrew school and temple and this home. In Judaism, there's such warmth, everything feels like a safe space, and it's warm and cozy and inviting, and that's exciting to show people. I don't think you get to see it all that often if you don't come from our pocket of the world. Us Jews, we eat, we dance, we love music. We can throw a rager, and it's kind of fun to be like, "Jews are cool too." There's something really exciting about getting to show the world that.

You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah is streaming now on Netflix.

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