Shiva Baby (2020)
A sexually charged comedy, Shiva Baby is an awkward delight.
Daniella (Rachel Sennott) is a 20-something-year-old sugar baby, part of a close-knit Jewish community. Her highly-opinionated mother, Debbie (Polly Draper), who is constantly bickering with her father, Joel (Fred Melamed), loves her dearly but is controlling and smothering. Debbie invites Daniella, or ‘Dani,’ to attend the Shiva Minyan (memorial service) for a member of the community who has passed away. Dani does so; mind you, she struggles not to appear disingenuous because she really doesn’t know who the Shiva Minyan is for.
As soon as Dani arrives, she spots a friend she grew up with, but someone she is desperately trying to avoid. It soon becomes clear that something went down with that friend, Maya (Molly Gordon), a law student.
Meanwhile, soon thereafter, Dani does a double-take when she spots the gentleman who she has just “serviced.” He — Max (Danny Deferrari) — is equally taken by surprise. Both appear to genuinely like one another, but things are about to get decidedly more uncomfortable. That happens when Dani discovers Max is married to a beautiful, non-Jewish blonde entrepreneur, Kim (Dianna Agron), and the pair has an 18-month-old daughter, both of whom join Max. Further, the history of Dani’s relationship with Maya is also revealed as the cattiness between that pair continues.
Shiva Baby becomes a hilarious free for all with a crackerjack final act. The movie works magnificently with Jewish cliches — think stereotypes, food, weight, career, and relationships. Characterizations are deliberately inflated but relatable and in the main plausible, notwithstanding a few instances where I felt the exaggeration went too far.
Writer and director Emma Seligman — who developed this feature from her 2018 short of the same name — has done a fine job capturing the claustrophobic nature of Dani’s increasingly harried mind. The vast majority of the action takes place at the home where the Shiva Minyan is taking place. The camera often focuses on Dani’s body language, actions, and interactions with lightning impact. The stringed score by composer Ariel Marx, The Tale (2018), adds to the tension.
Much credit goes to actors Rachel Sennott and Molly Gordon, Booksmart (2019), for the work they’ve put into crafting their characters. Sennott brilliantly captures the embarrassment and fear involved in the predicament Dani — who hasn’t determined what she will make of her life — finds herself in. Gordon appears to effortlessly turn up the heat at will. There is also much in the “looks” between Sennott and Danny Deferrari.
Shiva Baby has been designed to put a smile on your dial, and it succeeds in doing so. If this isn’t the most uncomfortable memorial service to which you have been privy, I would have to say your life is a whole lot more “out there” than mine.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Alex First