Shiva Baby (2020)

Shiva Baby
Director: Emma Seligman
Writer: Emma Seligman
Cast: Rachel Sennott, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed, Polly Draper, Molly Gordon, Glynis Bell, Rita Gardner, Cilda Shaur, Jackie Hoffman, Dianna Agron
Seen on: 9.7.2021

Danielle (Rachel Sennott) is a student, just trying to figure out what she wants to do after college. Meanwhile, she has a rather comfortabel arrangement with Max (Danny Deferrari), her sugar daddy. When Danielle’s parents Joel (Fred Melamed) and Debbie (Polly Draper) insist that she come to a shiva with them, Danielle things she is dealing with the worst when her parents keep trying to finde her a job and she runs into her ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon) there. But then Max shows up as well – with his wife (Dianna Agron) and baby.

Shiva Baby is billed as a comedy, but the parts that stood out to me the most were the uncomfortable ones, and not the funny ones. In any case, for a debut feature by a very young director, it shows a lot of promise.

The film poster showing Danielle (Rachel Sennott)in a dress made of cream cheese and bagels, holding up a bagel.

Sometimes I just don’t get why something is supposed to be funny. Often that’s because a lot of jokes are just sexist, racist, ableist and/or classist shit, but sometimes I just look at something in wonder, overwhelmed by sadness or discomfort that overshadows any kind of humor in a certain situation. That was the case a bit with Shiva Baby. Danielle is in such an incredibly awkward situation with pressure from all sides, and no way out, I just couldn’t find the humor in the catastrophes that befall her.

Especially since the moments where she is this close to having a panic attack are the strongest moments in the film. Sennott’s perfect performance, coupled with a harrowing soundtrack and Emma Seligman’s sense for timing, they made me feel a little panicky and ill myself – not a particularly funny experience, albeit a very effective one.

Maya (Molly Gordon) and Danielle (Rachel Sennott) carrying some food to the car.

That I couldn’t laugh about the film is also a testament to Seligman’s skill as a director (though maybe not necessarily for comedies, at least not for comedies that appeal to me). The way she uses the tightness of space, the shiva crowd and the people closest to Danielle to corner her over and over again, is impressive indeed.

For these strengths, Shiva Baby is definitely worth seeing. And who knows, maybe it can make you laugh more than than it could make me.

Danielle (Rachel Sennott) with her parents Joel (Fred Melamed) and Debbie (Polly Draper).

Summarizing: go see it.

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