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Hits & Misses For Young Audiences ~ At The Movies With Kasey

With each passing week, I fear that we are closer to the availability of new movies falling off dramatically due to the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Fortunately for younger audiences, Netflix has two new movies geared toward tweens and kids.

In You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, two best friends, Stacy (Sunny Sandler) and Lydia (Samantha Lorraine), are planning epic parties for their upcoming bat mitzvahs, but when Lydia falls in with the popular crowd, the drama that follows threatens to ruin the ceremonies and their friendship. Meanwhile, Stacy struggles to find her sense of self, expressed through doing a good mitzvah project.

This movie takes a pretty standard tween comedy plot with a strong Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret vibes and pushes it over the top with the chemistry between characters in the ensemble. It would be easy to dismiss Adam Sandler’s real daughters appearing in the movie as pure nepotism, but not only do they deliver funny performances, but their onscreen dynamic as sisters also benefit from the real-life familiarity. As the older sister, Ronnie, Sadie Sandler provides dry, chaotic energy and sometimes helps her younger sister. Their banter with their father mixes affection with zingers that made me laugh out loud. Having grown up watching Adam Sandler’s less family-friendly films, there is something outrageous about watching him struggle to buy tampons, but the jokes still work. As their mother, Bree, Idina Menzel brings much-needed reason and calm. Jackie Sandler also appears as Lydia’s mother, in a role that is mostly funny because she is obsessed with how good a father Sandler’s character is.

The saga of whether or not Stacy and Lydia will reconcile in time for their bat mitzvahs only works because the performance and writing create a friendship that the audience wants to succeed. Filtered through Stacy’s point of view, the film blends the struggles of being thirteen with adult perspectives on the importance of friendship. As the more level-headed friend, Samantha Lorraine plays Lydia with an appropriate balance of sensitivity and frustration with Stacy’s antics. Then there’s Sarah Sherman’s bonkers performance as Rabbi Rebecca, the Torah teacher who offers wisdom but also tries way too hard to be entertaining and cool. She keeps things just on this side of too much.

Although I enjoyed the acting, the writing also successfully merges middle school angst with important lessons about life, friendship, and faith. Without hitting the theme too hard, the movie delivers insightful messages about the importance of Jewish culture for the community and the girls’ development into adults, albeit miniature ones. You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah offers a funny, cringey, ultimately sweet take on classic coming-of-age themes.

You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah was written by Alison Peck and Fiona Rosenbloom and directed by Sammi Cohen. It runs 103 minutes and is rated PG-13.

Also on Netflix, The Monkey King takes a Chinese epic dating back to the Ming Dynasty and turns it into a fairly ridiculous animated “comedy.” Saved by the Buddha when he was just a cub, the Monkey King (Jimmy O. Yang) battles against demons, the Dragon King (Bowen Yang), and even the ruler of Hell to grant himself immortality. With the help of his assistant Lin (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport), Monkey must also contend with his own ego.

If there is wisdom conveyed in this animated adaptation of a Buddhist folktale, it was lost on me. The animation in The Monkey King features bright colors and an admittedly adorable, somewhat obnoxious, monkey that children are likely to enjoy. I appreciate that the production attempts to bring a cultural story to a new audience, but the storytelling itself is paced so quickly and choppily that it reminded me of episodes within a video game or the old episodes of Power Rangers where the plot and characters were entirely secondary to the combat.

As I watched The Monkey King, I remembered shows my younger siblings watched, and I rolled my eyes at them. Little viewers will probably drive up the streaming ranking and reviews of this movie, but from a narrative standpoint, it does a poor job of developing the characters or making the story cut through all the action.

The Monkey King was written by Steve Bencich, Ron J. Friedman, and Rita Hsiao and directed by Anthony Stacchi. It runs 97 minutes and is rated PG.

Kasey Butcher

Kasey Butcher

She is proud to be a Ft. Wayne native, a graduate of Homestead HS, Ball State University & Miami University. She became involved with journalism editor-in-chief for her high school magazine. She authors the "At The Movies with Kasey Butcher" review. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer