REVIEW: ‘Donny’s Bar Mitzvah’ Is One to Remember

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Donny's Barmitzvah

Donny’s Bar Mitzvah is a comedy film by Jonathan Kaufman filmed in 4:3 and presented like a viewing of a 1998 bar mitzvah tape. It’s Wet Hot American Summer meets Keeping up with the Steins. It’s crude, gross, and absolutely hilarious beyond any expectations I could have had for it.

I’m not typically a fan of a comedy based on gross humor. There are some gems in the genre, but it’s never been my favorite. Donny’s Bar Mitzvah is a gem. Steele Stebbins stars Donny, the titular bar mitzvah boy. His family is a mess: his parents hate each other, his sister hates everyone, and his brother basically only loves himself. The party, of course, isn’t actually for Donny anyway. What over-indulgent bar mitzvah party ever is? It’s just an excuse for all of the adults to drink, do drugs, and talk about how much they hate sex with their spouses.

The reason why I give the movie’s comedy such high praise, especially given it’s not usually my style, is that it manages to make a 90s period piece starring teenagers and overloaded with 90s references not cringy. If you look back on comedy movies from the time the movie takes place, they’re rife with racism, homophobia, sexism, and so on, reflecting a society that found that comedy acceptable in real life too. 

Donny’s Bar Mitzvah almost seems to go out of its way to prove that it’s none of those things, at least not overtly and in ways that I can discern easily as a white viewer. But not in a way that feels like it’s pandering, either. There are a number of moments that walk up to the edge of racism, homophobia, and sexism, but the punchline or the drama go in completely opposite directions. Not in a fill-in-the-blank and laugh at what went unsaid sort of way either, but in a way that makes you cringe at your own expectation of an unsavory joke and then laughs at whatever hilarious thing happened.

This movie is also possibly the only time I have ever found a prolonged projectile vomiting sequence hilarious. Not because the moment on its own was so funny. It was pretty gross and again, not my kind of humor. But because it won me over with so many well-delivered moments leading up to it, I couldn’t help but find it funny. The movie does front-end a few too many butt jokes for my taste, and it nearly turned me off to the movie too soon, but the humor didn’t stick to one lane for long, so I got plenty of laughs out of other topics soon after.

What I also really appreciate about Donny’s Bar Mitzvah is that it’s not a comedy made at the expense of its Jewish subjects. There are few Jewish actors in the movie, especially among the main cast, and were the film about making fun of the bar mitzvah itself or rife with too many cultural or religious references besides the innocuous mazel tovs thrown around, I might have been upset. But rather, the movie uses the bar mitzvah as a setting and vehicle for delivering a comedy about family, secrets, communication, and other universal themes. The select overtly Jewish moments are both enough to make sure the bar mitzvah isn’t merely just a setting but still respected as an important religious event, but also sprinkled throughout so well that they’re always extra funny.

A few of the scenes were a bit over-filled with 90s references that it felt like were just shoved in for the sake of 90s references alone. But the recurring bit with Danny Trejo, which I won’t even explain because it’s so absurd and hilarious, makes every weird reference infinitely funnier. Watch the movie for him alone.

Donny’s Bar Mitzvah is a surprisingly hilarious and good time of a movie. Even if you’re a bit of a party pooper like me when it comes to crude and gross humor, the absurdist moments and way that it uses the bar mitzvah setting as a vehicle for strong themes make it a total hoot.

Donny’s Bar Mitzvah is streaming now on VOD.

Donny’s Bar Mitzvah
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Donny’s Bar Mitzvah is a surprisingly hilarious and good time of a movie. Even if you’re a bit of a party pooper like me when it comes to crude and gross humor, the absurdist moments and way that it uses the bar mitzvah setting as a vehicle for strong themes make it a total hoot.