A funeral transforms into a stressful ride of emotions.
Emerging from the South by SouthWest 2020 indie film category comes Emma Seligman’s film debut, “Shiva Baby,” a comedic drama taking place in the confines of a funeral home. While COVID has forced directors to adapt their filmmaking skills, “Shiva Baby” uses their limitations to their benefit by offering a film that is more of a claustrophobic thriller than a comedy.
The film starts with our main character, Danielle — played by Rachel Sennott — having sex with her sugar daddy, Max, played by Danny Defferrari. She then remembers that she has a funeral to attend but ends up missing the reception. Danielle instead makes it to the Shiva, which, in Judaism, is the period of proper mourning that begins after the funeral.
However, at the Shiva things don’t get any better for Danielle. Her parents continuously embarrass her causing her to continue to lie to other family members about what she’s been up to in school and her plans for the future. Even worse, Danielle runs into her ex-girlfriend Maya — played by Molly Gordon. They haven’t talked in a while and some sour feelings have developed during that time. The film really gets interesting when it turns out that Danielle’s sugar daddy, Max from earlier, worked for Danielle’s dad and is also attending the funeral … with his wife … Awkward.
The drama and the awkwardness in this film are very well built. There are multiple scenes throughout where Danielle and the viewer have these moments of claustrophobic and cacophonous thought that build the tension and anxiety in each scene. The anxiety this film produces rivals that of “Uncut Gems,” which is pretty fitting given that both films feature Jewish main characters.
With tight close up shots of characters that work to achieve the goal of putting the viewer into Danielle’s shoes, the framing in these claustrophobic scenes is also well done. Although, the film relies a bit too heavily on these scenes, so by the third or fourth time one comes up, it’s easy to feel sick of it and comes across as though the director didn’t really have any other ideas.
The story itself, also written by Emma Seligman, is very well written. It is unconventional, and with the multiple ways in which it could have gone, the route that Seligman chose to go was the best. Ultimately, it fits the theme of a woman who knows what she wants to do in life while everyone around her has their expectations lowered.
“Shiva Baby” is a great drama for those looking for an unconventional story, something to get a chuckle out of and perhaps even relate to. Its unique story makes it worthy of at least one watch.
Availability: In Theaters and to buy on Amazon
Title: “Shiva Baby”
Star Rating: Four out of five stars
- Themes and narrative are clear and well portrayed
- Scenes are well crafted
- Unique narrative that makes use of great cast
- Relies heavily on certain aspects of scenes
- Could have used the setting of the funeral better