SHIVA BABY | FILM REVIEW
Dir: Emma Seligman (15, 77 mins)
A tense, claustrophobic, dark comedy drama that really manages to get under the skin, thanks to great performances and tight, well-observed writing. Set mostly at a shiva – a Jewish funeral wake – for a relative main character Danielle (an excellent Rachel Sennot) doesn’t even know, this gets increasingly uncomfortable as this toxic farce and coming of age story progresses.
Danielle has a sugar daddy, Danny Defarri’s Max, making money for herself, unable to decide where she should be going with her life. Her overbearing parents, gregarious dad Fred Melamed and critical mother Polly Draper, don’t help. When she bumps into Max at the shiva, along with his glamorous wife Dianna Agron and their baby, things get complicated and almost unbearable to watch.
Danielle has also had a lesbian relationship with Molly Gordon’s Maya, who seems to have her life planned out: where she’s going to college, what she’s studying. Their relationship hasn’t exactly been looked upon favourably by the tight-knit community, either, and Danielle gradually falls apart over the course of the shiva, gradually discovering what she might want to be.
Debut feature writer/director Seligman captures the suffocating community brilliantly. Sometimes well-intentioned, often very funny barbs are made about Danielle: used to be chubby, needs to find a man, get a good job and so on. Sennot superbly captures her trapped character, thinking she’s in control of her life by getting an older man to pay her for sex yet soon realising that this is all a façade, and that she may be less empowered and gender-savvy than she thinks. A comedy drama that at times feels like a horror movie, thanks to claustrophobic camera work from Maria Rusche and a nightmarish score from composer Ariel Marx, Shiva Baby marks out writer/director Seligman as a talent to watch.
Out now via MUBI
words KEIRON SELF