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Adam Sandler is known for having released crowd-pleasing comedies for decades, but it’s Sammi Cohen — director of the new Netflix feature You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah — who has the distinction of helming the actor’s best-reviewed film, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
Released Friday, My Bat Mitzvah is a Sandler family affair, with Sandler playing Danny Friedman, father to daughters Stacy (Sunny Sandler) and Ronnie (Sadie Sandler), who are portrayed by Adam Sandler’s real-life teen children. Adapting Fiona Rosenbloom’s 2005 novel of the same name and focusing on Stacy and best friend Lydia (Samantha Lorraine) — whose bat mitzvah plans fall apart over their mutual interest in a popular boy — the movie also includes Adam Sandler’s real-life wife Jackie Sandler as Lydia’s mom, in addition to Idina Menzel as mother to Stacy and Ronnie.
During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Cohen discusses Adam Sandler’s involvement and suggestions throughout the shoot as both a producer and co-star and the “nepo baby” debate surrounding the project.
What made this the right movie for you?
I’ve always been interested in the coming-of-age genre, and I was really excited to tell this story for Jews. Learning about who you are and who you want to be in the world, it’s such a Jewish experience, but it’s also a universal experience, and it’s a way for people to really celebrate their similarities and how alike we are instead of focusing on how we’re different. It’s really such a universal message, but Jewish kids get to feel like we have a movie too, which is really exciting to me.
Were the Sandlers already involved when you signed on?
Alloy and Happy Madison had the script, and they were looking for a director. When I came on board, Sunny and Sadie were attached to star in the movie. From there, we really built out the rest of the cast and the rest of the world around them — Adam and Jackie and everyone else.
How comfortable were Sunny and Sadie with performing?
They’ve had roles in other movies, and they’re familiar with being on set, but one thing that just sticks out — they work harder than most adults I know. They love acting and filmmaking in general. They take such an interest in how the movie is made, and they’re both so talented. I think Sunny feels like this really real kid. She’s got this incredible free-spirited nature and a natural silliness that elicits moments of charming vulnerability. She’s lovable and relatable and the kind of person you root for. Sadie, too — all I had to do with Sadie is empower her to lean into what she does best. She’s got this natural ability to be just effortlessly funny with that dry humor in her grounded delivery.
How did you make sure that the depiction of bat mitzvahs felt true to the current moment?
With the parties and the bat mitzvahs of it all, we did a ton of research. I’m Jewish — I grew up going to a ton of bat bar mitzvahs, and some things never change. There’s always going to be “The Cha-Cha Slide.” But it was important to also make sure we were making this movie for today, and it was reflective of what’s happening now. We had bat mitzvah consultants, and me and my department heads got to go to a ton of parties in Toronto. In doing all that research, girls aren’t wearing heels. They’re actually wearing sneakers. For a lot of the music, it’s way more current. That’s why you hear Dua Lipa and Olivia Rodrigo and Lady Gaga (in the film).
What was Adam like on the set?
He’s super involved in every step of the process, and frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s what makes it fun. It doesn’t feel like work. It feels like I’m making a movie with one of my best buds. He was really involved in every step of the process — really trusted me — and I felt totally safe bringing things up to him. There was a mutual trust. We had the same collective vision, and we were all on the same page. He was on set most days, even if he wasn’t acting, and we were collaborative from the get-go all the way through postproduction.
Would he give notes to his kids?
He’s hilarious, and he’s always making everything funnier. He really gave everyone space to do their thing, but when people needed support, he was there. He’s wearing multiple hats — producing, acting, being an actual dad. It’s almost inhuman. Nothing suffers — he does it all 110 percent. I would say he’s a good coach. He knows when to push; he knows when to take a step back. He just understands how to make a good movie, and he’s one of the funniest, kindest human beings.
What was the process like for you to land the gig?
Sandler was looking for a young Jewish director who could relate to the story of the kids, the culture and how everything needed to be told through a modern lens. I had just come off of my first feature, (2022 Hulu release) Crush, which is a high school coming-of-age rom-com. He saw that, and my earliest talks with him, we talked a lot about movies and creatively aligned so much, and we also talked about being Jewish and how we listened to kids. The Sandlers in general made me just feel like a part of the family. It’s when you meet someone and you go, “Oh, we’re going to be friends for life.”
I’ve learned a ton from Adam — more than I could ever put into words — but the biggest thing is, success is not just making movies. Success is making movies with people you love, and it’s a really different experience, and it really just lends itself to the making of better movies.
Were you previously familiar with the book?
The movie is a more progressive and modern telling of the 2005 source material. We wanted this to feel inclusive and queer and body-positive and progressive when it came to things like social issues, family dynamic and gender.
There has definitely been excitement over the Uncut Gems reunion with Adam and Idina Menzel. What was it like to have them together?
It was great. Idina is just insanely talented. I joke that this is the happy side of their onscreen marriage. It was really fun to see Adam and Idina come together again. They have such great chemistry already. You believe that they are these sweet, fun Jewish parents.
Was there a favorite moment from getting to watch the Sandler family interact?
I love any scene with the Sandlers together. It somehow just makes me nostalgic for my own childhood and my own family. It’s really a beautiful thing. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Danny is in the car with Stacy, and he does this bit where he fake spills coffee on her to make her laugh. Onscreen, it’s magic — it’s so sweet and cute and slice-of-life, and it speaks to this idea that when kids are sad, you feel hopeless as a parent. Stacy’s so far away, and all he can do is make her laugh.
As much as that scene is Danny and Stacy, it’s also Adam and Sunny. It’s hard to put into words how special that feels, those moments where you see Danny with Ronnie or Stacy. It felt like we were making a movie and memorializing life in such this beautiful way. It’s just really special, and they’re all so goddamn talented.
Your film became part of the debate surrounding “nepo babies” that has been a favorite social media topic of late. Do you have thoughts on that?
Sandler has a reputation for making movies with his friends, and that’s something we all want to do. What I say is, he’s still making movies with his friends, but they’re his kids. He is the kind of dad who’s also your best friend. When it comes to the sort of chatter we’re hearing online, I don’t really think twice about it because I’m going like, “Yeah, he’s doing the same thing he’s always done.”
You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah is now streaming on Netflix. This interview was edited for length and clarity.