Shiva Baby (15)
Shiva Baby (15)
Director: Emma Seligman
Runtime: 78 minutes
Cast: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed, Dianna Agron
Synopsis: College student Danielle is faced with a series of awkward encounters at a day-long shiva, a Jewish gathering during a time of mourning. Amongst overbearing relatives, she is rattled by the appearance of an ex-girlfriend and of her secret sugar daddy, who unexpectedly arrives with his wife and baby.
With this impressive debut, Canadian film director and screenwriter, Emma Seligman’s acclaimed Shiva Baby pushes the envelope between distress and hilarity. It is led by a powerful performance from Rachel Sennott, an American actress and comedian who is best known for her online comedy television series Ayo and Rachel Are Single with Ayo Edebiri.
Rachel Sennott is Danielle, a directionless young bisexual Jewish woman who attends a shiva with her family. Other attendees include her successful ex-girlfriend Maya [Molly Gordon [Booksmart (2019)], and her sugar daddy Max (Danny Deferrari [Madoff (TV 2016)] with his wife Kim [Dianna Agron (Glee (TV 2009-2015)]) and their screaming baby. Shiva Baby also features Fred Melamed [A Serious Man (2009), Curb Your Enthusiasm (TV 2011), In a World (2013), WandaVision (TV 2021)] and Polly Draper [Billions (TV 2020), Thirtysomething (2020)] as Danielle’s parents Joel and Debbie, with Jackie Hoffman[Birdman (2014)] and Deborah Offner [Black Swan (2010)] in supporting roles.
Adapted from Seligman’s own 2018 short film of the same name, the film’s clever formal construction heightens its darkly comedic, excruciatingly embarrassing, sex positive take on family, religion, and sugar daddies.
It is based on Seligman’s own experiences as a bisexual, Jewish student at NYU, where she has said “sugaring” – transactional sex – is common. Rachel’s ‘sugar daddy’, Max thinks he is helping out with graduate school fees – but she actually doesn’t need the money as an indulged daughter and is doing it because she likes the feeling of power and control it gives her.
At the post-funeral Jewish shiva with her parents for her Bubbe’s bridge partner, she must dodge nosey and loving questions from her parents’ friends and face judgemental attitudes, while coping with running into her much more successful high school ex and even worse, Max, his wife and a noisy baby.
Danielle is a young woman struggling to keep up different versions of herself.
The dialogue is always razor sharp and frequently eviscerating: “You look like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps – and not in a good way.”
An intense, claustrophobic black comedy, emphasised with Ariel Marx’s nervy, anxious score, which helps make the film an impressive debut from Seligman.
Streaming on MUBI
Images courtesy of Utopia