Today, Netflix released the latest entry into the canon of b’nai mitzvahs in pop culture: “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah,” starring Adam Sandler, his wife and children, Idina Menzel and Sarah Sherman. And surprise surprise — we have some feelings!
After all watching it separately, five members of the team at Hey Alma and our partner site Kveller convened to have an emergency discussion of the movie over Slack. This included: Molly Tolsky, editor of Hey Alma and Kveller, who was bat mitzvahed in 1999; Vanessa Friedman, deputy managing editor of Hey Alma, who was bat mitzvahed in 2001; Evelyn Frick, associate editor of Hey Alma, who was bat mitzvahed in 2010; Lior Zaltzman, deputy managing editor of Kveller, who was bat mitzvahed in 2000; and Daci Platt, audience engagement associate of Kveller, who was bat mitzvahed in 1997.
Read on for our many, many takes on the Jewish representation in the film, which characters we loved and hated, and a sneak peek at the next great b-mitzvah movie, coming soon.
This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed. And this may go without saying, but spoilers ahead for “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah.”
Molly Tolsky: OK, welcome to Hey Alma’s roundtable discussion of the new Netflix film “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah,” which will hereon be referred to as the especially pleasing acronym YASNITMBM! Let’s start with a very basic question: Did you like this movie?
Daci Platt: I liked it a lot, and I feel like I might be in the minority here.
Lior Zaltzman: I liked it too!! I liked it even more the second time I watched it.
Vanessa Friedman: I… did not for the most part.
Evelyn Frick: I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars of David. The movie was basically fun. But I did really like the book better.
Molly: The first time I watched I really wasn’t a fan! I found it kind of awkward, not as funny as I wanted it to be and I did wonder if its portrayal of this very specific kind of Jewish family/community was what we really needed right now. But then I watched it again… and I liked it a lot more! I think once my expectations for it were altered a bit after first viewing, I was able to enjoy it for what it was. And maybe realized that as much as I want to think of myself as the target audience for a teen movie about a bat mitzvah, maybe I’m not, and that’s OK. It also seemed a lot funnier the second go around, so maybe I was just in a better mood.
Daci: Your comment about whether we need a movie about this very specific type of Jewish family is super valid, and I think it helped me going in knowing that this was a movie about a spoiled rich girl having a bat mitzvah.
Lior: I had zero expectations going in — and I think that really helped. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved the Jewish representation in it. And I will say, when I talked to director Sammi Cohen about it, I think they were very aware that this is a very specific, limited vision of what being Jewish in America is, and what was important to them was that the Jewish values shone true. I think ultimately they did.
Molly: I had way too many expectations. I think we’ve been talking about this movie coming for like 13 years.
Vanessa: OK I have only seen it once so I’m willing to accept that I may enjoy it more upon a rewatch! And yes, it is possible that I am not the target audience. But… who IS the target audience?
Molly: Is it teens?
Evelyn: I think it’s supposed to be teens. But if I were a teen, I would still find some of the moments and jokes to be cringey.
Vanessa: Yes, I feel like The Youth (sorry, I’m so old) are so smart these days! It’s hard for me to imagine they wouldn’t roll their eyes at the parts I found cringey, too.
Daci: But what was the cringiest part?
Vanessa: The stuff I found cringey was the effort to update the source material. The jokes about gaslighting, I was just like… why is this happening?
Evelyn: They also updated or added details to be more inclusive (i.e. the MASSIVE pride flag in the school). As a queer person, I appreciate that sort of gesture, but it also felt unbelievably heavy-handed.
Vanessa: Yeah! When the cool kids are like, “That’s OK, some of us are straight, too,” I was just like… we get it.
Molly: I feel like so many movies/TV shows have that problem these days (looking at you, “And Just Like That”).
Vanessa: I’m thinking of the “Babysitter’s Club” reboot, too.
Evelyn: Also, the pad scene was so hard for me to watch. I had to fast forward.
Molly: Did you too once jump off a ledge in front of all the cool kids and have your pad come out of your shorts, Evelyn?
Evelyn: I did not, baruch Hashem.
Lior: I had embarrassing teen period moments for sure — I found it cringey but somewhat relatable. And I loved that Stacy (Sunny) was cringing along with us, though. I think she’d be relatable for teens.
Daci: By the way, I read a review in The Hollywood Reporter last night where a man said her tampon came floating up.
Evelyn: Oh my God. Mistaking a pad for a tampon? That is cringey.
Molly: OK, so let’s talk about the Jewish representation: What did we like? What did we not? Personally, I loved hearing Stacy practice her Torah portion, the little throwaway references to the Purim carnival, Adam Sandler talking about sharing a giant matzah ball at his bar mitzvah in the synagogue basement. That was all very fun. It is genuinely fun to have a mainstream movie be filled with so many Jewish references that aren’t just like “oy!”
Daci: I loved that she practiced her haftorah in the shadow of a Haim poster.
Evelyn: YES, I noticed that too. I also loved the chorus of elderly Jewish women (played by Jackie Hoffman and others) that inexplicably showed up to every b-mitzvah party. I have so many questions: Who were they?! Are they related to anyone there?! But it was amazing elder Jewish representation.
Vanessa: Yes, the Jewish representation (though specific to a certain kind of Judaism) was very fun and felt like the most thoughtful part of the set design/general vibes, and the most well done.
Lior: I liked Rabbi Rebecca! And all the Judaica! And the Hebrew! And just the Jewish quips in some of the conversations. The older Jewish ladies, actually, was the part that sometimes felt heavy-handed to me. It was almost too much. The “Bim Bam” scene? Rabbi Rebecca explaining a mitzvah? Like sure, that’s maybe for the benefit of non-Jewish viewers but it did feel a bit over-emphasized at times.
Vanessa: Oh, that’s so interesting Lior. I felt like that stuff was the most natural/least heavy-handed! Maybe because I was expecting it more? Like, my Hebrew school was sort of like that. My middle school experience of being a closeted lesbian was NOT like that… and I’m not convinced it’s like that now for kids either? (Though would love to be proven wrong I guess!)
Evelyn: Just want to emphasize that Rabbi Rebecca stole the movie for me in a ton of ways. More rabbis need mullets and to jog performatively on treadmills!
Vanessa: Rabbi Rebecca is everything to me.
Lior: Yes, I loved her so much! Sammi told me the treadmill belonged to the actual rabbi whose office it was. So, it was sort of a delightfully serendipitous thing.
Daci: Oh, and Rabbi Rebecca wearing the Susan Alexandra necklace! There were so many tiny moments that maybe the average viewer wouldn’t notice but really helped pull it together for me.
Molly: But I’m still stuck on how this is a movie portraying extremely wealthy New Jersey Jews. And I get it, a lot of teen movies focus on wealthy people, including some of my favorites (“Clueless”!) but I feel like, especially in 2023, there could have been more awareness of it? Like maybe at some point have one of the characters acknowledge how over-the-top this all is? Idina Menzel fretting over the price of a dress while they live in a mansion was like… really? You’re worried about that?
Vanessa: Right, Molly, I didn’t understand the relationship to money at all, actually. They’re clearly very wealthy. They’re clearly throwing a huge bat mitzvah. Their daughter is clearly spoiled. But then she’s asking for lots of (in my opinion, outlandish) bat mitzvah stuff and they’re like “absolutely not.”
Daci: Right, they’re just drawing an arbitrary line for the sake of the plot.
Vanessa: To be clear, it’s fine to be wealthy and also tell your daughter “absolutely not.” It’s just that they didn’t seem to follow through on it. So I was confused.
Molly: Right. The actual party was still huge and over-the-top. (Which is fine! I had an over-the-top bat mitzvah, too. These things happen. But again, seemed like a missed opportunity to show a little awareness.)
Lior: I got the feeling that they were closer to the middle in the upper-middle-class milieu.
Molly: Lior, did you see their house???
Lior: I did see their house, but I also live in a big house in New Jersey and I couldn’t afford a lavish bat mitzvah. But also, it’s like — priorities. She wants to use her college fund for this, they want to save for her future. And they want to teach her other values, too. I wasn’t so jarred by it.
Vanessa: I think that’s a really valid point and if the movie hadn’t ended with a lavish bat mitzvah, I could’ve gotten into that plot. But the movie couldn’t quite decide what it was doing, so it ends up just feeling inauthentic that they said all that stuff.
Evelyn: Once again, Evelyn coming in with the book version: The book begins with a letter or diary entry Stacy writes to God and I thought that was so much more of an endearing beginning than her huge bat mitzvah fantasy. I really hated how for non-Jews it reads that the party is the most important part. Which for kids, sure it is. But in Judaism, it’s not.
Vanessa: I honestly found myself wondering, “Is this movie for Jews or to show other people how Jews are? And if it’s the latter… yikes?”
Daci: Since this was Sandler’s literal daughter (who had Charlie Puth perform at her bat mitzvah!!) it almost reads like this is maybe the only variety of bat mitzvah they’re familiar with.
Vanessa: This is what I mean about not being careful about set details. For example, the amount of effort and nuance that went into the “Barbie” set was incredible. For this movie, I’m like — are they super wealthy? Their house looks like yes. Their script lines seem to indicate something else. Stacy’s attitude seems yes. The juxtaposition with Lydia’s mom’s divorce spending says no. What is going on?!?!
Molly: I think we wouldn’t be focusing so much on the money aspect if we all didn’t have these deeply ingrained fears about what featuring rich Jews projects to the wider world.
Vanessa: Yes, exactly that.
Daci: To your point, Vanessa, I think it was for Jews. There was so much Judaism beyond “oy” (as you said, Molly) that wasn’t explained. Which is why I think it’s for Jews.
Molly: We probably should have invited a non-Jew into this discussion to get their take. If a non-Jew is out there reading this, please hit us up.
Vanessa: I feel this sometimes with queer art and culture also. There’s stuff that’s funny to say to other queer people, but when straight people consume it, it can feel commodifying or exploitative or just bad and weird. I think I’m having that reaction with this as a Jew. I’m down to talk about the ways the movie was funny or not, worked or didn’t, hit or missed, with other Jews. But the idea of non-Jews watching this and thinking… anything? Makes me uncomfortable.
Molly: I don’t think you can put a movie out on Netflix and expect the majority of your audience watching it to be Jewish. There just aren’t that many of us. But this also leads to the question: what does this add to the canon of b-mitzvah-related TV and movies? I thought the movie featured a lot of Jews of color as part of the community, like Lydia, which is refreshing and important to acknowledge.
Daci: I thought that aspect felt pretty organic and not like they were trying to force it.
Evelyn: Agreed. Beyond that, I don’t know if adds a ton to the canon. It’s a lot of the same motifs like focusing on a giant party. That said, I do love a story about female friendship, especially teen female friendship and especially, especially when there’s a bat mitzvah involved. That felt heartening.
Molly: I agree, I do think this is the image of bar/bat mitzvahs that have dominated pop culture. There was that movie in 2006 “Keeping Up With the Steins” (I don’t know if anyone saw that) about having these big blow-out parties. And knowing that the source material is from 2005, that maybe makes more sense.
Evelyn: Oh! And this rabbi named Miriam Grossman wrote this great piece about a trend in movies/TV about the canceled b-mitzvah as a new TV trope (think: “And Just Like That,” “Fleishman,” “Extrapolations“), and I loved that we got a moment where the kid, with help from the parents, still had the bat mitzvah.
Lior: The second bar/bat mitzvah Netflix movie in as many years feels kind of impressive. I did love Sunny’s Stacy. I loved the way the Jewish family is portrayed in this — I think it’s a really nice family dynamic that’s not stereotypical. I don’t think we get to see a lot of Jewish day school representation and I thought it was a fun and positive space.
Evelyn: I don’t think it was a Jewish day school, though. I think they went to a regular school and then went to a Hebrew school that was just massive.
Molly: Yes, that’s what I think too. That Hebrew school was truly wild.
Vanessa: Possibly the largest Hebrew school ever to exist in pop culture?
Molly: Is it a real Hebrew school/synagogue? We need to know more.
Lior: It was shot at Beth Tzedec in Toronto. I didn’t go to synagogue/Hebrew school growing up, but I’ve taught at a Hebrew school in New York. And yeah, it was pretty big.
Vanessa: But thinking on what Evelyn said about teen female friendships… I think what was really hard for me about the movie (and again, perhaps I’m old) is that Stacy was so mean to Lydia.
Daci: I agree, Vanessa. My teen experience was never that dramatic but it always FELT that dramatic. So, it felt true to life even though nothing like this ever would have happened in my life.
Molly: Again, the source material is from 2005, so maybe the trope of girls who are supposed to be friends being super mean to one another didn’t feel as tired then. I am never sure if girls are really that mean to each other or if it’s just a movie thing — or a self-fulfilling prophecy. Girls are mean to each other because media constantly tells them that girls are mean to each other.
Lior: I think teens can be super vicious to each other — I grew up in Israel, though. Maybe teen girls are meaner there.
Vanessa: Stacy was truly one of the least likable characters. The only characters I liked were Lydia, Rabbi Rebecca and Matteo! And Stacy is kind of awful to all of them but then they all just forgive her at the end.
Daci: Oh, Matteo.
Molly: JUSTICE FOR MATTEO.
Vanessa: That x100.
Lior: We’re a Matteo fan club. What a mensch.
Molly: Why was Stacy so mean to him in the beginning? Besides the fact that he is the ultimate mensch, he was friends with Andy!!! Wouldn’t she want to get in good with him?
Vanessa: Stacy is so mean to everyone!
Evelyn: It’s so funny to me because when I read the book (as a kid) I was like, “Wow, Matteo [Dante in the book] is so hot.” And, watching this movie he was a literal child. He looked so baby.
Daci: A. LITERAL. CHILD.
Molly: We are so old.
Daci: I also just wanted to say Andy Goldfarb sucks.
Lior: OMG, yes. Is he better or worse in the book?
Evelyn: He’s the same.
Lior: We all knew an Andy Goldfarb.
Evelyn: On the count of three, everyone share the name of their personal Andy Goldfarb… JK.
Vanessa: Something I found quite well done about the movie is how it’s clear from the beginning that Lydia also has a crush on Andy. That was actually one of the only nuanced parts, in my opinion.
Daci: And it made Stacy even more unlikeable.
Vanessa: And it’s like… why is Stacy such a jerk of a BFF that Lydia can’t tell her that? Why is it assumed Stacy is the queen of the universe?
Lior: I mean I definitely think teens often think of themselves as the center of the universe. They can also be idealistic and wonderful and selfless but for me that also checked out.
Molly: Right, ultimately this movie is in Stacy’s perspective, so that does add up. It also reminds me of the Liz Lemon/”30 Rock” scenario, where Stacy probably thinks of herself as being bullied while she is meanwhile a bully.
Vanessa: OK, yes, this is a very fair point.
Evelyn: This will make me sound a million years old but the addition of updated technology in the movie made Stacy meaner. In the book, as in 2005, there wasn’t a big bat mitzvah video entrance or a school social media account where you could tell secrets about other people.
Daci: I had to bury myself in a blanket when they played the video.
Vanessa: As soon as Stacy made the video I knew they’d show it somehow.
Daci: Chekhov’s queef video.
[Everyone simultaneously: hahahahaha]
Evelyn: The award for best line of the roundtable goes to Daci.
Lior: Ugh, the video was so viscerally awful!! The secondhand embarrassment was so bad. But I like that this movie felt as awkward and cringey and terrible sometimes as being a teen actually is.
Evelyn: Maybe this plays into stereotypes, but what Jewish mother wouldn’t watch the video before sending it?
Molly: Yeah, is this all Idina’s fault?
Vanessa: Honestly… yes.
Evelyn: It’s like the meme. “The character people think is the villain: Stacy. The actual villain: Idina.”
Daci: It’s always the moms. In the end, this is just another story about a meddling Jewish mother.
Vanessa: Evelyn, can you give context to what happens in the book? If there’s no awful video, what’s the bad thing Stacy does in the book?
Evelyn: I don’t think she does anything that awful in the book, actually. She gets mad at Lydia for kissing Andy and going out with him. I could be wrong, but I don’t think she retaliates. I reread somewhat recently but let me quick skim.
Molly: Meanwhile, what do we think of the performances by the Sandlers? Idina Menzel? Sarah Sherman?
Vanessa: Sarah Sherman stole the movie for me.
Molly: I have no notes for Sarah Sherman, except is the bim in “Bim Bam” pronounced “beem?” I always pronounced it “bim,” rhymes with rim.
Lior: “Beem” is more of a Hebrew-accented way of doing it. I do “beem.”
Evelyn: I’m in solidarity with the strikers, but God, I wish I could’ve talked to her about this.
Lior: I loved them all. I loved Adam as a dad in this. I loved Sunny and Sadie and the love/hate sibling relationship.
Daci: I loved Adam as a dad, too.
Molly: Oh, what’s up with DJ Shmuley? I kind of hated him.
Lior: I wonder if teens will think he’s funny or cringe?
Molly: Though the scene where Ronnie makes him crash his car and then she and her friend don’t notice and keep singing made me genuinely laugh out loud.
Daci: DJ Shmuley was the one thing that rang true to me for the b-mitzvah experience: the one DJ that every party HAS to have (who is usually awful). Ours was named Tim.
Lior: I love actor Ido Mosseri a lot. I thought he was too much but also, I kind of didn’t mind it.
Daci: Oh, also, I didn’t understand why everyone picked on Aaron but I liked it.
Molly: Aaron felt like the truest representation of what boys in my Hebrew school looked like.
Evelyn: OK, after a quick skim of the book: Stacy doesn’t retaliate. There’s this moment at a sleepover with the popular girls where Stacy and Lydia have an argument. But the book is mostly focused on Stacy’s relationship with her little brother and helping him get over his social awkwardness with the help of Matteo/Dante.
Lior: Aw, that’s so cute.
Vanessa: That’s fascinating. Perhaps the book is more for me.
Lior: I want to read the book now!!
Evelyn: I recommend the OG 2005 book because the references are perfect mid-2000s b-mitzvah nostalgia. But the updated version is good too.
Molly: What would your dream b-mitzvah movie be? Who’s directing? Who’s starring? What’s going on? I personally NEED Emma Seligman to make a bat mitzvah movie.
Daci: I think we need an Emma Seligman movie. Jinx!
Vanessa: The Movie We All Need.
Molly: Let’s start a campaign.
Evelyn: In an interview with Vanity Fair she said that her latest movie “Bottoms” isn’t really Jewish, but she wants to go back to Jewish content. Emma, if you’re reading this…
Molly: Do it, Emma. Do it, do it.
Lior: Yeah, Emma, we need it.
Molly: The anxiety that she brought to “Shiva Baby” would be a perfect match for a bat mitzvah character.
Evelyn: Bat mitzvah girl shows up to her bat mitzvah and finds out the boy from Hebrew school she’s dating has a wife.
Molly: And its Dianna Agron.
Evelyn: God, I love Dianna.
Molly: She should definitely be in a bat mitzvah movie and play an actual Jew.
Lior: “Bat Mitzvah Baby.”
Vanessa: I would also watch a sequel of this movie with Rabbi Rebecca doing anything.
Molly: Yeah, actually, a b-mitzvah movie from the perspective of the rabbi instead of the kid would be fun.
Lior: We’re also getting an adult bat mitzvah movie! I’m excited for that.
Evelyn: OMG, I forgot. And it’s WITH CAROL KANE.
Molly: I feel like Ilana Glazer would make a great b-mitzvah tutor.
Daci: Andy Samberg would be in my dream bat mitzvah movie cast, too.
Evelyn: I would also love a movie from the perspective of a b-mitzvah DJ. I know “Cha Cha Real Smooth” exists, but it’s not really about the b-mitzvah.
Vanessa: Oh my god, Evelyn, yes.
Lior: Starring Paul Rudd, a real life bar mitzvah DJ.
Vanessa: Maybe a bar mitzvah DJ and an overworked cantor rom-com?
Lior: A Judd Apatow and Paul Rudd b-mitzvah film!
Molly: OK, so Emma Seligman directs a movie where Paul Rudd is the DJ, Daveed Diggs is the rabbi, Sarah Sherman is the other rabbi, Dianna Agron is the mom…
Lior: Andy [Samberg] could be the dad.
Molly: And the bar mitzvah kid is one of those characters that you never actually see on screen.
Evelyn: I’m so into the idea of never actually seeing the bar mitzvah kid. All the characters talk about him and ostensibly the whole event is about him, but it’s not.
Molly: Emma, email me. I’ve read like two screenplay writing books in my day so I think I’m ready.
Lior: Our next roundtable could just be writing the next b-mitzvah movie.
Evelyn: The 5784 Alma Award for Best Jewish Movie would go to us.
Vanessa: Before we end, I do want to say, for transparency, that my wife loved this film. And she said the reason I didn’t like it is because it wasn’t “my genre.” So although I think I come off as a hater in this roundtable, my household as a whole did not hate the movie!
Molly: Your wife is also in the process of converting to Judaism, right?
Vanessa: Yes! She did not grow up Jewish, she is converting in her 30s.
Evelyn: Is she going to have a bat mitzvah?
Vanessa: She wants to have one!
Molly: Are we…. invited?