Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby was equal parts hilarious and downright stressful. The film focuses on Danielle (Rachel Sennott), a student in her early twenties who is juggling a murky academic career, a sugar daddy, overbearing parents and an uncertain future after school. Taking place over the course of a single day, Danielle attends a shiva with her tightly knit community and struggles to keep a lid on all of her secrets.
Shiva Baby toes the line constantly between comedy and pseudo-thriller, exemplified by a fantastically claustrophobic horror score throughout the movie that makes you question what kind of movie you’re going to end up watching over the course of 77 minutes. I was honestly half expecting someone to wind up getting stabbed at times, the scenes were so tense – like watching a kettle and waiting to see it boil over.
Molly Gordon (well-known from last year’s amazing comedy Booksmart) plays Danielle’s ex, Maya, and has incredible chemistry with Rachel Sennott. The dialogue is fluid and natural which helps the jokes land on their feet. For me, the highlight of Shiva Baby was Polly Draper’s performance as Danielle’s mother. She stole the spotlight with amazing comedic timing and quick, passive-agressive ‘Mum Comments’ throughout.
Throughout the shiva, Danielle is catapulted from one awkward situation to another without time to breathe – dietary interrogations by distant aunts; relationship quizzes from family friends; strangers asking her questions. The movie does such an excellent job at portraying her growing feelings of anxiety – and when you add on screaming babies and cheating husbands into the mix, my gosh, I started to take on some of Danielle’s anxiousness.
I would have happily watched more of Danielle’s day unfold after the movie ended. Shiva Baby gave me ridiculous second-hand stress and perfectly captured that feeling of being quizzed on how your life is going at family gatherings. It was fun, tense, and would always dial back the tension just when you thought things were about to kick off, leaving you itching for more.