Forced family functions are an absolute nightmare. Awkward social interactions, invasive questions from people you barely even know, let alone like. The first directorial outing from Emma Seligman dives head first into one of those dreaded afternoons.

Danielle (Rachel Sennott) is lost in life. Her parents pay her way as she switches majors in college with no sense of direction. To earn more money she pretends to babysit while she’s actually selling herself to rich men wanting something on the side. When her parents ask her to come to a funeral, her biggest fear is navigating a social cesspit of family members. Little does she know one of her sugar daddies is attending as well.

Shiva Baby’ is fast and furious. At a brisk 77 minutes it wastes no time on things like character development. Now that may sound bad at first, but during the duration of the movie we get to see Danielle’s complete breakdown as each new twist adds on the cringe. The layers of the character are revealed as we go along. That leaves little room for anyone else to be fully fleshed out.

Yet the secondary characters never feel as if they’re mere caricatures, as each one of them behaves in such a meticulously observed manner that they seem all too realistic. The fact that the supporting cast is full of memorable actors (Molly Gordon, Fred Melamed, Jackie Hoffman) helps of course. We even get to see Dianna Agron (Glee) again.

The script is talky but manages to only say the right things. The way the entire Shiva sequence is choreographed and builds its palpable tension is also a testament to the talent involved.

Shiva Baby is equal parts funny and unnerving thanks to a taut screenplay and a great performance from Rachel Sennott.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

SHIVA BABY will screen as part of the 2021 Jewish International Film Festival’s lineup, incl. director Q&A. Tickets for screenings between February 18 and March 15 are available HERE

JIFF 2021 Review – ‘Shiva Baby’

Reviewed online (screening at JIFF 2021), January 31, 2021. Rating: TBC. Running time: 77 min.

PRODUCTION: A Utopia release of a Neon Heart Productions production. Producers: Kieran Altmann, Katie Schiller, Lizzie Shapiro. Executive producers: Fiona Altmann, Martin Altmann, Rhianon Jones, Victoria Ku.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Emma Seligman. Cinematography: Maria Rusche. Editing: Hanna A. Park. Music: Ariel Marx.

CAST: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed, Dianna Agron, Jackie Hoffman, Sondra James, Deborah Offner, Vivien Landau.

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