SHIVA BABY takes the viewing audience through every single emotion known to man in its short hour and 17 minute runtime: anxiety, fear, hilarity, confusion, relief, enjoyment, etc. This is all from a film that’s labeled as a comedy and that takes place in one location for the majority of the runtime. It’s hard to say I’ve ever seen anything quite like SHIVA BABY, and I have nothing but praise to shower onto director/writer Emma Seligman’s shoulders. It’s wildly original and not quite like anything else being produced today, which is a rare thing to say.
We follow Danielle (brilliant newcomer Rachel Sennott) as she traverses a Jewish funeral service she doesn’t want to be at. Her more successful ex-girlfriend (Molly Gordon) is there, the family members constantly ask probing questions, and she ends up having to lie to everyone about how successful her life is looking. Oh, and her sugar daddy shows up and makes things worse. It isn’t a pleasant experience for her to day the least, and her disposition slowly unravels as the service presses on.
Not enough praise can be showered upon this film for the absolutely stellar direction from Seligman, which often makes the viewer feel as they are trapped in this funeral service with Danielle and her many insecurities. Rarely does a movie come along that simultaneously feels like a horror movie and a farce. The editing is also top-notch, with the close-ups and quick cuts delivering a suffocating feeling during the more intense scenes compared to the slowness of the more calm scenes. The way it portrays family drama is the most accurate I’ve seen in some time, with the probing questions from relatives (“When are you gonna get a job?” “What are you doing after college?” “Do you have a boyfriend?”) being something everyone in this generation has likely had to endure at some point.
A major compliment I have for this movie is the fact that it portrays its taboo subjects with such a casual nature that it ends up normalizing them and creating space for understanding and empathy. The main character is Jewish, bisexual and a sex worker, and yet these things are all shed in a positive and normal light because this is the reality which many people in this college generation get by. The movie explores the struggles of a young woman in 2021 trying to grapple with her own self-importance, and the realistic and progressive depiction of her identity is a leap forward in terms of lending a voice to this inner dilemma.
I hope more people seek SHIVA BABY out, because it is one of the most tightly written, anxiety-inducing, and awkwardly hilarious scripts of the post-pandemic world. Not one scene falls flat, and every single cast and crew member involved puts in fantastic work. Emma Seligman is a name to remember, and I will be eagerly anticipating her next project.