Shiva Baby (2020)

EMMA SELIGMAN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

USA/, 2020. . Screenplay by Emma Seligman. Cinematography by . Produced by , , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

College senior Danielle () has a comfortable arrangement with Max (), a gentleman from whom she takes monetary gifts for their purely sexual relationship, which he says he is happy to do to help her finish law school. After one of their friendly appointments in his fashionable Soho apartment, she answers a frantic call from her parents reminding her that missed her aunt Sheila’s funeral; she heads out to the house where the shiva is being held and, without realizing it, walks into a series of complications that are terribly awkward for her and hilarious for us. Attending the get-together are a series of relatives and friends who question her about her job prospects after graduation, which prompt glib responses from her that feel more like escape plans from the conversation than actual goals, and are not helped by the constant interference from her aggressive mother () and impractical father (). The temperature is raised by the attendance to the event of her childhood best friend and ex-girlfriend Maya (), followed by the wholly unexpected coincidence of the appearance of Max himself. He finds out that she’s not actually in law school, she learns that he has a wife () and newborn baby and that it’s his wife’s career as a go-getting entrepreneur that is funding their relationship. Within this one increasingly confined space, Danielle bounces back and forth between various characters to try and leave this event as soon as possible and, the more she tries, the harder it becomes. Based on her short film of the same name, Emma Seligman’s feature debut never shakes off its origins as a one-joke premise and the situations that her main character finds herself in have been obviously engineered for the sake of the audience’s pleasure, but even at its most contrived this is a sparkling gem of a comedy that benefits a great deal from Sennott’s perpetually baffled facial expressions.  Seligman gently pokes fun at her character as a spokesperson for a generation that boasts confidence in rewriting the rules of conventional sexual behaviour (she doesn’t consider her relationship with Max traditional sex work, and has no hangups about her sexual fluidity among genders that her mother refers to as “funny business”), but loses much of her self-assurance when confronted with the judgmental glare of a more traditional older perspective.  The stand out performance in the film is Draper’s as her delightfully pushy mom; with that throaty voice, oversized glasses, glamorous beauty and harsh honesty, she is the film’s most fully realized character and its most exciting presence, you can hardly wait for another interaction with her.

Toronto International Film Festival: 2020

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