Movie #201 2021: Shiva Baby (2020)

Hey, you. Support female filmmakers. I mean… Support filmmakers in general, but female filmmakers need that extra support. We all know that Hollywood has been dominated by the same white dudes for way too long now, and yes, it has been improving in recent years. But the rate of that change is way too slow. And heightening that change starts with you.

Shiva Baby is the feature-length debut from Emma Seligman, and is based on her short film of the same name. The premise is pretty simple and is one of those films that takes place (pretty much) all in one location: college student Danielle (Rachel Sennott) attends a shiva with her family and what seems like the entire Jewish community, but feels completely out of place. Outshined by her ex-girlfriend (Molly Gordon, Booksmart, Good Boys) and badgered by her relatives, things only get worse when she comes face-to-face with her sugar daddy… who happens to be at the shiva with his wife.

Watch Shiva Baby | Prime Video

I may be over-generalising here, but don’t you find that female directors keep things succinct and to the point and don’t ramble on needlessly and endlessly? Well, Shiva Baby adds to the proof of my theory at least. At only 78 minutes, Seligman says everything she needs to precisely and concisely, and does feel the need to go off on any tangents. This film is careful, entertaining scriptwriting at its very best.

Movies like this are exactly my jam. The subtlety of the black comedy, the punchy yet realistic dialogue, detailed character studies… and the millennial-life crisis people my age are having! It’s all very relatable to me and being set all in one location throughout never felt gimmicky, which was great because it so often does. 

Shiva Baby' Star Rachel Sennott on Making the Anxiety-Filled Movie - Variety

Rachel Sennott is without a doubt the perfect choice for this part. Though they could have gone with someone more high profile, she is the dictionary definition of someone who understood the assignment and I’m honestly glad they didn’t just drop her for someone more well-known. Molly Gordon is equally as good, with more seasoned actors rounding up the supporting cast to form an all-round great ensemble. While we’re here, actually, I should mention that it was nice to see Dianna Agron in something that was worth her time and her talent.

The master stroke of this movie? Ariel Marx being a musical genius. The screeching violins bring such tension and awkwardness, making it sound just like a horror film at times. It’s innovative and interesting and so original. Indeed, the score made all the right choices and was maybe my favourite thing about the entire film, not to mention that female composers are relatively hard to come by. It’s so good to see (and hear) more of them gaining the credit they deserve.

Overall, this was pretty good. I did feel a little let down because other reviews were so praiseful of it, but as usual, that was probably just my expectations being too high. A fully enjoyable film to say the least.

Shiva Baby is available to stream on Amazon’s MUBI channel in the UK.

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