Cast: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper
Emma Seligman’s comedy about shiva gone very wrong often plays more like a horror film, the chattering of bubbes turning downright maniacal as the score’s strings intensify. We first meet Danielle (comedian Rachel Sennott) in the middle of sex with Max (Danny Deferrari), her sugar daddy, who shows a lecherous interest in her budding law career. Most of the movie, however, takes place at the post-funeral memorial for a distant family acquaintance Danielle is roped into attending with her parents (Polly Draper and Fred Melamed). It quickly becomes obvious that our protagonist is not, in actuality, pursuing a law career. She’s an aimless college student who has made up her own major. If the agony of being barraged with countless questions about her future weren’t bad enough, her high school ex (Molly Gordon) is a guest, as is—surprise!—Max. Jewish geography is indeed as much a curse as it is a blessing. Seligman’s camera stays focused on Danielle as her anxiety skyrockets and she makes a series of increasingly rash decisions. At less than 90 minutes, Shiva Baby is both economical and a bit slight, but Seligman makes fascinating choices at every turn.
Shiva Baby received positive reviews from critics. It was praised for its representation of bisexual and Jewish people, while also described as accessible for people outside those groups, and for effectively conveying anxiety-inducing claustrophobia. Seligman was praised for successfully drawing up tension within the film, especially in her feature directorial debut, and won several awards for her screenplay. The cast and the musical score by Ariel Marx, likened to that of a horror film, were also praised.
It was released in theaters and streaming on April 2, 2021. The events of the film take place almost entirely in real time and at one location as Danielle explores her romantic and career prospects under the intense watch of her family, friends, and judgmental neighbors.