Someone’s died. You’re not really sure who. A fourth cousin? A family friend twice removed? It’s probably a great-great-great-someone, that’s for sure. The thing is, it doesn’t really matter. Your parents, who dragged you unwillingly with the authority of some moral high ground, force you through the doors, and you’re faced with the familiar anxiety of navigating conversations with every relative, work friend, neighbor and long-time dentist that your parents have ever known.
They’re conversations you wish ended before they even began, with questions ranging from, “What are you doing with your life?” and “Have you found a job yet?” to the inevitable “Are you seeing anyone?” and those unfortunate offhand comments about your looks — “Wow, have you been eating (enough, everything in sight, etc.)?”
Typically, you find a way through — muddling around conversations, playing nice, taking any opportunity to get out of the fray of people and eventually leaving the tragic (on multiple levels) event unscathed.
Director and writer Emma Seligman’s debut feature film, “Shiva Baby,” takes this all-too-relatable situation and throws in a few major and maybe unrelatable complications. What if the sugar daddy you were semi-conning shows up with his wife and baby (both of whom you were completely unaware of until now) and your parents decide to talk to them? And your ex-girlfriend’s there. Also, you still don’t know what you’re doing after your impending graduation and may have told a few white lies that you do know what you’re doing.
The unfortunate soul in this terrifying situation is Danielle, excellently played by comedian, actress and Twitter personality Rachel Sennott. As a character, Danielle is dynamic and engaging, a spot-on depiction of the “still figuring things out” twenty-something. She’s surrounded by loveable, witty and authentic characters — specifically, her parents — who she bounces off of, butts heads with and relies on throughout the film. In one particular scene that is sure to be thrown around the Twitter-sphere, Danielle is forced to defend her gender studies-esque major to the quickening, objectively anxiety-inducing, horror-movie score until she finally exclaims, “[Feminism] is not my career! It’s a lens!”
Nearly all the action in the film takes place in a single location, making it feel like something of a bottle episode. The closed setting keeps everyone close and emphasizes the interaction between the characters, but it’s hard not to want to see these dynamic personalities in other situations. “Shiva Baby” could easily be the pilot-episode of a new, hour-long dramedy from HBO, and as we write this, they just announced that it kind of will be.
The central emotion running through “Shiva Baby” is anxiety. The claustrophobia of the film creates a nail-biting tension and on-edge viewing experience akin to that of “Uncut Gems,” but in a more down-to-earth situation and, with it being a Shiva and all, more Jewish characters. The anxiety is heightened by Ariel Marx’s score, which is reminiscent of horror films in its use of dramatic, building strings and complemented by Seligman’s humorous writing, which features excellent comedic conversational dialogue and memorable lines.
put this line delivery in the history books pic.twitter.com/2lJSWI4s4N
— yalitza apariciosus (@dunevillenuve) April 6, 2021
Digging up your own anxieties may not be the most relaxing of movie experiences, but there is something to be said for an independent film combining one of these writers’ (Guess who!) favorite “Glee” alumna (Dianna Agron, a real-life Russian Jew, beautifully playing the Shiksa wife of Danielle’s sugar daddy), as well as half of the other writer’s cultural identity and the overwhelming anxiety of being seniors about to be thrust into the real world. Maybe, at heart, we are all Shiva Babies being born into adulthood? Or maybe not. Maybe we all just have anxiety.
Title: “Shiva Baby”
Starring: Rachel Sennott, Dianna Agron, Molly Gordon
Director: Emma Seligman
If you like: “Happiest Season,” “Booksmart,” “Frances Ha”
Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5