Anchor Staff Writer
Debut film “Shiva Baby” has been referred to by fans as “a chaotic bisexual mess” and that’s exactly what it is, in the best way possible. Directed by Emma Seligman, the film follows college senior Danielle (Rachel Sennott,) a young bisexual Jewish woman with little prospects for her post-graduation life as she attends a shiva with her parents. There, she encounters her ambitious, overachiever ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon) as well as her sugar daddy Max (Danny Deferrari) with his shiksa wife Kim (Dianna Agron) and infant daughter.
“Shiva Baby” is a film of perfectly orchestrated tension and chaos. Taking place almost entirely in real-time, it immerses viewers in its nonstop series of anxiety-producing events. Seligman effectively utilizes tense music, a cacophony of judgemental relatives asking questions while a baby cries and claustrophobically close zoom-ins that recall a horror film, except the only horror is the nonstop cringing and second-hand embarrassment at Danielle’s hilariously uncomfortable experience.
While “Shiva Baby” is distinctly Jewish in many of the experiences it portrays, certain components of the film are likely relatable to many non-Jewish audience members as well. For instance well-meaning but nagging parents, relatives cornering you to ask about your life goals or insist you are not eating enough and the overall claustrophobic nature of family gatherings. For many seniors graduating this May, myself included, Danielle’s uncertainty about her future may also be especially, unpleasantly, relatable.
What makes the portrayal of bisexuality in “Shiva Baby” so refreshing is that while it is a component of her, as is the chaos of the film, she is a fully realized character. Furthermore, the chaos of the film feels like it is due to a combination of external factors and who Danielle is as a person, not a product of her sexuality.
The performances from the entire cast are excellent, in particular the chemistry between Sennott and Gordon. While there is tension between Danielle and Maya’s relationship, Seligman artfully captures the depth and tenderness of it brought together by Sennott and Gordon’s performances. Maya is often a source of quiet and relief for Danielle amidst a sea of judgmental, pestering relatives and neighbors and her extremely uncomfortable situation learning her sugar daddy is married and used to work with her father.
“Shiva Baby” is a must-watch. Less than an hour and a half long, the film nonetheless manages to compound so much relatability, stress and tenderness in its slim length. It’s a gem of a film and well worth a watch, or several.