Keren David

I loved You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah ... except for one thing

The Netflix tween movie almost gets it right, but there's a flaw among the froth

August 27, 2023 11:26

There are so many things to love about the new Netflix film You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, that it seems almost churlish to single out the one big thing that I think it got wrong. So first -  spoilers ahoy -  let me say what I think it got right.

Yes to showing Jewish tweens living their lives, doing their thing, and grappling with the social and spiritual demands of a year when everyone around them is doing that too. Yes to every member of the Sandler family giving a great performance, and that goes for Idina Menzel as well. Yes to the way that the kids struggle for individuality in a world where every party has the same DJ and much the same set of guests. A qualified yes to the deeply irritating but ultimately wise kooky rabbi.

There’s a great cast of older Jewish character actors and young stars in the making. And it's nice to see an emphasis on the synagogue and 'mitzvah project' side of things, not just the party.

Well done too for showing tweens as flawed humans, capable of great cruelty and stupidity but who are also willing to grow and learn, and use the big rite of passage as a vehicle for that growth. There are plotholes, sure (the broiges from Lydia’s batmitzvah would have rumbled on for generations), but you roll with it. I had tears in my eyes at the (implausible) ending.

I also liked the multi-cultural nature of the Jewish world on show. There are Latino Jews. There are Korean Jews. Everyone is Jewish -  we might be in Israel or even Radlett.

Everyone except Mateo.

Mateo is one of only two young boy characters in the film given anything like a personality (the others have catchphrases but nothing resembling two dimensions). He’s best friend to Andy Goldfarb, the soccer player on a mission to kiss the girls and make them cry. Mateo is short and has a foreign accent, and none of the Jewish kids except Andy pay him any attention. But we gradually come to realise that Mateo -  uniquely - is really nice and good, the moral centre of the film. And even though he’s a church-going Christian, he turns up at cheder, to teach the younger children their Shabbat prayers. (This confused me a little, because surely cheder is on a Sunday? Hasn’t Mateo got a church to go to? And what kind of synagogue lets a Christian kid volunteer there? Have they never heard of evangelicals?).

Because Mateo’s a Christian, he’s not having a barmitzvah. And so he doesn’t have the same journey to go on as the other kids. And he seems to be infinitely more virtuous than all of them. So  -  as the sole representative of Christianity in the film -  one could read into it the message that Christians are somehow better than Jews. That they embrace mitzvot naturally, without a big song and dance, led by DJ Shmuely.  That Christianity is somehow a more evolved, better religion and that Stacy -  seen at the end dancing with Mateo, even though he’s a foot shorter than her -  will one day become more like Mateo. 

I’m probably reading way too much into a sweet, silly film. But how I wish they’d made Mateo Jewish like the rest of the cast. With that mop of curly hair and short stature, he easily could have been the nicest Jewish boy in town.

August 27, 2023 11:26

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