Watching Adam Sandler‘s “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah” felt a bit like dusting off an old box from my childhood bedroom — it brought back a lot of memories I haven’t thought about in a very, very long time. As a former awkward middle schooler and a Hebrew school dropout, it truly felt like a time machine, which is why it’s such an effective movie.
“You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah” stars Adam’s own daughter Sunny as Stacy, a girl preparing excitedly for her bat mitzvah. Along the way, she has a falling out with her best friend, Lydia, over a boy, and the drama escalates from there.
It’s hard to explain the significance of b’nai mitzvahs unless you grew up attending them, and I never even had one, which immediately makes me less qualified to speak on them. Still, in my experience, the easiest way to describe them — at least the ones that come with giant parties after the Torah portions — is that they tend to be essentially on par with weddings in terms of guest-list drama, high expectations, and stress. As a pathologically shy middle schooler, all the attention was part of why I didn’t want to have one, though some ontological questions I had about God were the main issue (that’s another story).
However, I did attend Hebrew school for many years, and throughout the film, I was constantly bothering my movie-watching companion with the sudden memories it brought up. When a drunk mom gave some 11-year-olds their first sips of alcohol, I immediately thought of the scandal that rocked my seventh grade math classroom when we heard that some girls’ mothers had given them drinks at a bat mitzvah that weekend. And watching Stacy and Lydia struggle over their Torah portions, sit through cheerful musical numbers courtesy of the cantor and his omnipresent guitar, and listen to their classmates interrogate the rabbi (played by an excellent Sarah Sherman) did indeed bring me straight back to temple. Hebrew school is an odd mix of ancient traditions and preteen social dynamics. At that age, social hierarchies feel set in stone; moving up and down them feels cataclysmically life-changing — a fact that “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah” portrays very well. In my experience, this dynamic felt even more exaggerated in Hebrew school. And everything was always leading up to the big day.
B’nai mitzvahs fall at a unique point in young people’s lives. In middle school, bodies are changing at wildly different paces, and bat mitzvah parties often feel like I imagine debutante balls might — they’re chances to present a new, metamorphosed body for all the world to see. For some girls, they’re also often entry points into the world of beauty standards and sexuality. As Stacy begins hobbling around on high heels and wearing tighter and tighter dresses as her bat mitzvah nears, I couldn’t help but recall the equally tight-fitting dresses and stilettos I bought to wear to my first b’nai mitzvahs.
Of course, I was mainly trying to impress a boy. And just like Stacy’s crush Andy (Dylan Hoffman) in the movie, this fellow really only seemed attractive because he had undergone an early growth spurt and had a Justin Bieber-esque haircut. I always wondered if we’d make contact during the inevitable slow-dance segment, a highly stressful ritual that saw girls and boys dance with each other for a few moments before switching on to the next person. I always imagined he’d notice me for the first time, à la Taylor Swift at the end of the “You Belong With Me” music video. Oddly, I also first realized I was bisexual while at a bat mitzvah, though I’d spend years trying to repress that knowledge. B’nai mitzvahs are spaces of transformation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve triggered many similar realizations about love over the years.
The movie also reminded me of less middle-school-specific things, including how holy and vast the Torah always seemed, locked away in its case. It also felt like a genuine, loving portrait of a Jewish family. And it reminded me about how strongly Judaism emphasizes the importance of togetherness, community, and generosity and how it continues to bring my family together on each holiday. B’nai mitzvahs are fundamentally community affairs, and in an era of increasing loneliness, I think we need even more of those kinds of occasions.
The movie also reminded me of some of the grittier aspects of being a middle schooler: the body-image issues and the social anxiety that were also very much a part of my life at the time. My shyness also meant I was invited to very few b’nai mitzvahs, which I was reminded of every Monday when it seemed like nearly everyone else would come in wearing sweatshirts from whatever bar or bat mitzvah they’d attended that weekend.
Fortunately, though, I had a small group of sweet, smart, and loyal friends, many of whom I’d known since kindergarten. And looking back on my own middle school b’nai mitzvah experiences now, my favorite memories don’t involve dresses, or elaborate decor, or any boys at all. Instead, I remember dancing with my best friends to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” putting our modern dance class skills to work in the socks we’d been handed, and shouting along to the lyrics, adding a little bit of extra emphasis on the “l’chaim.”
“You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah” reaches the same conclusion: at the end of the day, it’s always the dances with our best friends that mean the most.