Shiva Baby: Film Review

Shiva Baby

Courtesy of MUBI

I have been reading praise for Shiva Baby for months on Twitter so I couldn’t resist seeing what all the fuss was about and everyone is right – this film is awesome.

The film follows Danielle (Rachel Sennott), a bisexual Jewish college student who attends a Shiva (a service after a funeral) with her parents Debbie and Joel (Polly Draper and Fred Melamed) and runs into her sugar daddy Max (Danny Deferarri).

I don’t want to give away any more of the plot because I think it’s best enjoyed if you go into this cold and have no idea what’s going to come but suffice to say, poor Danielle is put through the ringer. There’s just one thing after another, it’s pretty relentless, and the tension builds and builds until it becomes almost too much to bear. She has to deal with an incredibly overbearing family and face a barrage of questions about her weight, her studies, her plans for the future and if she’s eating. It’s a stress and anxiety-inducing watch that’s claustrophobic as hell.

Writer/director Emma Seligman, making an impressive feature directorial debut, has written a fantastic screenplay – the dialogue is smart and witty and I love how she just piles the developments on and on and crafts such a suffocating environment that you can’t wait for Danielle to get out of there and find some space to breathe for a second. The film is only 77 minutes long and it whips by at a brisk pace so it never outstays its welcome.

She also employs a dominant string score that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror movie. It helps add tension and it builds and builds and becomes more in the foreground as Danielle gets increasingly more stressed out.

Sennott, who reprises her role from the 2018 short film this expands upon, is terrific. You can just feel the anxiety radiating off of her and there are so many super close-ups of her horrified, sweaty face. She has convincing chemistry with Molly Gordon as her ex Maya, who has a better idea of the direction her life is going in. Then there’s also Dianna Agron, who is perfectly cast as Max’s flawless and successful wife Kim, and my favourite – Draper as Danielle’s mum. She was hilarious and made me laugh out loud the most.

Everything you’ve heard about Shiva Baby is true – it is one of the most stress-inducing comedies I have ever seen. Bravo to Seligman!

Streaming on MUBI from Friday 11th June

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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