Title – Shiva Baby (2020)
Director – Emma Seligman (feature debut)
Cast – Rachel Sennott, Danny Deferrari, Molly Gordon, Fred Melamed, Polly Draper
Plot – Attending a Jewish funeral service with her parents, college student Danielle’s (Sennott) day gets even worse when she discovers the man she is in a relationship with is in attendance at the service, with his wife and child.
“You look like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps”
Review by Eddie on 07/12/2021
Adapting her own 2018 short film into a fully fledged feature (even if it comes in at a brisk 70 minutes), debut writer/director Emma Seligman has announced herself as a young talent to watch with Shiva Baby, a tightly scripted and tension rattling experience that may be billed as a comedy but showcases something much more than what you may at first be expecting.
There’s a lot of rough edges to Shiva, it’s filmed in a documentary like manner, it doesn’t stay too long at any one time to make the most of its various story strands and characters but there’s a lot to find enjoyment in as we follow Rachel Sennott’s floundering Danielle, whose bad day with her parents at a funeral service turns worse when she discovers the man she’s in a relationship with is there, with his wife and child she didn’t know existed.
In the character of Danielle we have both a flawed and likeable lead and much like Seligman a star making turn from young actress Sennott, who you would expect to go onto very big things in the future on the basis of her confident and fully formed turn here that allows the performer to go from sassy confidence, shock and instability often within a few minutes of each other and while other actors such as Molly Gordon, Fred Malamed and Polly Draper all are fine in their respective roles, it’s Sennott that walks away from Shiva as the star of the show.
Another element to Seligman’s film that is perhaps unexpected is the tension she is able to create from this situation all based around a few hours at the particular funeral service we find ourselves in and barely taking pause or a moments respite from the singular location setting, Shiva oddly enough becomes one of the more white knuckle experiences you’re likely to have with a feature this year, with it on par to the nerve wrangling energy that was found in the likes of Uncut Gems.
Quickly creeping up on you with how its hooked you in its grasp with no plans in the foreseeable future too let up, Seligman keeps the plot constantly moving as we discover more about each character and Danielle’s past/future plans and with the help of Ariel Marx’s intense score and Hanna Park’s frantic editing, Shiva is almost more thriller than straight up comedy and makes one excited for where Seligman might take her career too next.
Final Say –
A neatly designed indie and a noteworthy debut from Emma Seligman, as well as a career launching platform for its lead Rachel Sennott, Shiva Baby is an unexpected experience that proves innovation and inventiveness is alive and well in the film industry.
3 1/2 lost phones out of 5