Available on the MUBI platform, Shiva Baby is the first feature film from the promising director Emma Seligman, who tells, with a scathing humor, the agonizing day of a young woman trapped between her lover and her family.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT ?
Danielle is in terminal and has a paid sex relationship with Max, a married man. Today, she must join her neurotic parents in order to participate in a Shiva, a Jewish ritual that is performed after the death of a loved one.
When he arrived, his flippant demeanor and disinterest in higher education earned him disparaging remarks from some of his family. This special day takes an unexpected turn when Max shows up with his wife and their crying baby…
WHO IS IT WITH?
Shiva Baby is carried by the young actress Rachel Sennott, who was already the heroine of the short film from which the film is adapted. Molly Gordon, known for her role as Nicky in Animal Kingdom and her participation in the teen drama Booksmart, and Diana Agron, the unforgettable Quinn in Glee, give her the answer.
The rest of the cast include Fred Melamed, who has performed in small roles in Girls, New Girl, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and most recently WandaVision, Polly Draper, seen in Side Effects and Demolition, and Danny Deferrari, preview in Chicago Med and NOS4A2.
Sugar baby against the rest of the world
Hailed by critics after her stint in several festivals and presented in France at the Deauville Festival, Shiva Baby is the first feature film by Emma Seligman, a young American director who adapts here her short film of the same name that she had. staged for his thesis at NYU.
Taking place over a single day in almost one place, this film explores the wanderings of a young woman through the story of Danielle (Rachel Sennott), a student a little lost in the face of the pressures exerted by those close to her on her professional life and sentimental as she is stuck with her lover during a shiva.
Danielle is a sugar baby having paid sex with Max (Danny Deferrari), a married man, whom she finds by chance during this Jewish mourning celebration. But the young woman also finds her former lover Maya (Molly Gordon) with whom she is angry.
As if that wasn’t enough, Kim (Dianna Agron), Max’s wife also present, feels that her husband is hiding something from her. She puts extra pressure on Danielle and shows off her bawling baby at this event where every minute tightens the noose around Danielle and her lies.
From this simple scenario, Emma Seligman succeeds in drawing from it a complex and controlled closed door which plays on a constant tension and an agonizing atmosphere. The director uses horror movie mechanics with tight shots and shrill music, by Ariel Marx, which adds an extra sense of urgency.
With each obstacle or disappointment that Danielle encounters, the unease grows, accompanied by a confusing suspense until its liberating climax. Emma Seligman does not forget to incorporate a certain creaky humor in the vein of the Fleabag series to bring a few moments of lightness and breathing and especially thickness to the characters.
The very solid cast contributes to the strength of the film in which the director and screenwriter instills a sincerity and a disturbing truth by drawing inspiration from her own experiences as a queer and Jewish woman. For a first feature film, Emma Seligman impresses with her controlled staging and her ambition and makes you want to see the rest of her career.