Thursday, September 10, 2020

Shiva Baby: Movie Review

A unique and unnervingly real romantic dramedy.

Shiva Baby is a unique film. We’ve seen real-time films before but not in this Jewish slice-of-life (and death, we are at a Shiva after all) way. This is a comedy-drama-romance, but told so intimately and unnervingly real that it feels like it’s own genre. It is nothing like a romantic comedy, and yet on it’s surface, it’s a comedy about a young woman in a not-good relationship and what is she going to do with her life.   2020

Directed by: Emma Seligman

Screenplay by: Emma Seligman

Starring: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon,
Polly Draper, Danny Deferrari, Dianna Agron

Meet Danielle (Rachel Sennott), she’s college-aged and having an affair for money with a slightly older man. She seems in control. (I’m assuming you have already identified the key word “seems”). Then she’s off to meet her parents. There was a funeral service she was supposed to go to but wasn’t able to make it (we know why) but is now attending the Shiva afterwards. She doesn’t know who died; somebody who used to play bridge with her Bubbe.

Her parents fuss and fret over her – what are they going to tell people since she’s in an aimless major (“gender business”) and has no plan for life, and no boyfriend. That feeling of never being good enough for one’s parents comes through loud and clear and then pokes its little head up later in a very poignant scene.

Apart from the opening scene, the entire movie takes place at Shiva in a rather small house. Small for that many people and way too small for that big of a secret. And that’s not the only secret Danielle has.

The setting is pivotal for this type of movie. Every movement Danielle makes, every person she makes eye contact with, or tries to avoid making eye contact with, is all about producing that exact emotion in the audience. At first it’s a lot of nerves, moving quickly into anger and claustrophobia, and then onto jealousy.

All the while, her secret is threatening to be exposed. And this is all because of her feelings – and conflicting feelings of love, jealousy, anger, and most importantly, her sense of control evaporating. This is where the anxiety and panic-inducing phase of the movie comes in. I may need to repeat myself here because it’s important to keep in mind that this is a comedy. A comedy where the viewer experiences second-hand panic attacks on behalf of the confused heroine.

These are unusual emotions for this genre, which really helps elevate Shiva Baby into a unique cinematic experience. I loved its casual handling of bisexuality, and to really emphasize that point, it’s the best depiction I’ve seen of bisexuality on film. There really are a lot of laughs, and very surprisingly, there is a happy ending, just not for every character.