Sammi Cohen makes the movies they always wanted but never had growing up. Last year, they made their directorial debut with Crush, a queer romantic comedy about an aspiring artist who falls for the captain of the track team. "I was like, a feel-good high school rom-com not about coming out or something traumatic?" Cohen remembers thinking. Their follow-up is You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, an adaptation of Fiona Rosenbloom's 2001 YA novel of the same name.
"There's no movie like it," says the director. "With Crush, I made a movie for the gays and for the Little Sammies, and then with Bat Mitzvah, I was so excited to make a movie for Jewish kids, because I think it's important that we see ourselves on-screen."
Hailing from producer Adam Sandler, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah is a coming-of-womanhood story of BFFs Stacy Friedman (Sunny Sandler) and Lydia Rodriguez Katz (Samantha Lorraine), whose friendship is threatened when Lydia kisses Stacy's Hebrew school crush. Middle school drama ensues and bat mitzvah invites are revoked, set against the backdrop of a rite of passage that holds a special play in Cohen's own life.
"Also, I think both movies speak to universal feelings and emotions we all have. So, it's really a way to bring people together. But it definitely would have helped me as a kid to have these," they reflect. "And a lot of my favorite movies did make me feel seen or made me feel more connected to myself and helped me feel my feelings."
Below, Cohen shares with A.frame the five films that made them the filmmaker they are today.
Written and Directed by: Céline Sciamma
'Tomboy' was a term endowed upon me from early childhood, so the title alone made me feel seen and like I mattered, almost. I was fresh out of college when I watched this. I hadn't even come out yet, and there was a ton about my identity that I had kept hidden for a long time. But then, I saw Tomboy. And it just... it made me feel seen. Not only did it explore that part of my identity, it was this acknowledgement of how normal it is to be a kid exploring gender.
As a kid, I remember I grew up escaping into movies that were big and wild and imaginative, and I love those movies. I'll talk about some of those. But this one was different, because it's this deeply empathetic view into trans childhood. It's really gentle and slow and quiet. It's not forcing a point of view. It just lets you exist in the world with it. And it feels personal. It felt like the movie equivalent to the little box of tchotchkes you keep under your bed as a kid that you cherish. It was a reflection of this very real secret inside of me, but a secret I hadn't shared with anyone. Then all of a sudden it's on-screen and it made me feel seen.
It was so impactful as a young adult. So, I think it made me want to tell stories that made other people feel seen and really informs the kind of movies I want to make. I'm passionate about telling stories from a marginalized point of view. Again, I love the other movies, but you don't have to slay dragons or win the big game to be the hero. You can just be this little kid enjoying summer, exploring gender, expressing yourself freely, and being you. [That] is enough to be the hero.
Written and Directed by: Tom Hanks
There's a ton of movies that influence my style and taste and approach to making films, but That Thing You Do! is the movie that made me want to make movies. And it's why I'm a drummer. I love music. I grew up with a jukebox and I would make up these stories to songs inside my head, but then That Thing You Do! was like this window into a world I didn't have access to, but wanted to know everything about.
It was the first soundtrack I ever bought to a movie, and I'd listened to it on my Walkman and play along to it on the drums — that's how I taught myself the drums — and I wore sunglasses, because I wanted to be like Guy. I was obsessed with the movie and then obsessed with the soundtrack. And The Wonders were as real to me growing up as The Beatles. At first, I thought they were real. I didn't believe in Santa Claus, but I believed in The Wonders. I think the music is just that good, and the movie's that good, and I think that's what's sticking out.
It's why I care so much about the music I'm putting in my films. It's never an afterthought. It's part of the storytelling and the characters and the heart of the movie. Before every movie, I make a playlist for every character in the film, because I think it's so important. Music is such an important part of storytelling, and so I credit Tom Hanks and Adam Schlesinger and That Thing You Do! for that.
Written and Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
I took a class in college on Godard, and this movie is one of my favorites. I think it's really informed me as a human and a storyteller. Before Breathless, I really liked polished, pretty things, that felt controlled and balanced and curated. And then I saw this, and it blew my mind, and it made me understand how the camera can be emotionally-driven. It basically helped me get loose and weird. It's also the first time I remember watching something in a language I didn't speak. It wasn't the first, but I remember it didn't matter that I didn't speak French. I could feel everything they were feeling, and I could understand everything that was happening.
The camera, it's just messy and personal and it moves a different way. It got me hooked on these point of view shots. It's so immersive. There's that one shot where Patricia's looking at Michel, and Godard puts the camera inside the rolled-up paper she was looking at him through, and then the camera slowly zooms in on him. I remember I physically leaned in towards the screen, and that's what blew me away. I was like, 'Oh my God, it had this physical pull on me.' It got me excited. I was like, 'I want to figure out where to put the camera and how to make it move to make people feel something.' That movie sparked a really big interest in editing for me, and it just made me want to break the rules, and get a little bit messier and more emotional with filmmaking.
Directed by: Howard Zieff | Written by: Laurice Elehwany
I remember watching Vada in the first scene even, and just being like, 'Oh, that's me.' The way she talked and what she was wearing was a little more boyish. It felt like me and my friends. And I loved how honest the movie was, because it's a movie about grief, but it makes you laugh. Truly, the saddest thing in the world happens, and I lost my childhood best friend as a kid too. So, I really valued it in that way. But somehow at the end of the movie, you're still okay. I was still okay. And there's happiness too.
I don't know how old I was when I watched it. I was probably around the same age Vada was, and it's this realization that no one thing or experience defines you. I think the movie also taught me that life is both funny and sad. Sometimes comedy and drama becomes so binary — like everything in life — but really, most of the time, they work hand in hand. You can't have one without the other. That's why, with my movies, I love making comedies, but I don't shy away from the dramatic moments, because being human is all of those things.
There's so many things people avoid talking to kids about, and death is one of them. Because we're so scared. But I think it was really impactful to see Vada, this kid like me, going through real adult s**t. This movie was like being the kid who's finally invited to sit at the Thanksgiving dinner table with the adults. Like, 'I'm respected and included and taken seriously.' That's what sticks out. It just felt good to finally be taken seriously.
Written and Directed by: John Hughes
I love this movie. It's, like, the ultimate feel-good film. No matter who you are in life, you feel like the cool kid watching Ferris. And the movie was famously filmed in Chicago, and Hughes talks so much about how it's a Chicago movie. But it was filmed in Chicago, except for the Principal Rooney scenes. I remember finding out that the Principal Rooney scenes were filmed at my high school, El Camino [Real Charter High School] in the San Fernando Valley, and I lost my s**t.
So, I love the movie and it's on my list no matter what, but it was the first time that I felt close to filmmaking. It made it feel real and accessible to me. I could reach out and touch it. I always loved cameras, but that's the year I picked up my mom's camcorder and started making movies with my friends and my sisters. And I've never been starstruck by people — I don't know why, I just don't get starstruck — but I remember being starstruck by this location, by my high school. Because before, I felt like it was so ordinary, and then all of a sudden, it was extraordinary. I got to walk by Rooney's office and I was a part of this movie that I loved so much, and I was like, I want to be a part of movies I love forever.