The delicious fear that defines the audience experience of Emma Seligman’s first film, Shiva Baby, begins with the very first scene – a call from mom during sex-and only stops when the credits begin. The Film takes place over the course of a day and, with the exception of the opening scene, is entirely set on a Shiva. We follow Danielle (Rachel Sennott)-a student and sugar baby-as she tries and (sometimes) does not tactfully navigate through family and romantic entanglements that become so cumbersome that the Film finds itself on the verge of social horror.
The Film was originally an 8 minute short with the same actress and premise: a young woman runs in her Sugar Daddy to a Shiva. Seligman describes The evolution from short to feature film in an Interview with Ella Kemp: “As I had just come from a short film, the question of extending to a feature film was,’ How are we all going to be interested in that day?””Seligman’s mission is to extend a nightmarish event from 8 to 77 minutes and add an additional stress-inducing factor that was not present in the short time: surprise! Danielle’s Ex – girlfriend is present.
“At first I was like that, it must be tense, but at the end I was like that, well, sometimes it feels like a nightmare for a young woman.”Seligman absolutely manages to keep this day interesting for the duration. Imagine you’re trying to deal with an Ex and a Sugar Daddy (who you just found out was married and a father), while you have to answer incessant questions about your Major, career, and parent weight that you haven’t seen in years! All these elements, combined with music that sounds like a horror movie, turn Shiva Baby into an exhibition of cruelty from which one cannot turn away (unsurprisingly, Seligman cites the opening night as an influence.)
All this is not to say that the experience of watching this Movie is unpleasant; it’s full of comedy when you have the stomach for it. Seligman describes the Jewish sense of humor as “generally uncomfortable and cringeworthy,” which, for some people, is less “funny” and more “I have to leave the room now.”Personally, I found the comic Timing right and perfectly mixed The second-hand unbearable embarrassment with moments of hilarious comic relief (which never lasts long). This Jewish Film on the fringes of his seat is compared to Uncut Gems (2019), the fast-paced Safdie Brothers drama with a highly critical Adam Sandler who seems determined to lose all his money. While the stakes are certainly higher for uncut gems, I was able to refer to Danielle’s distress in Shiva Baby, which makes it exponentially more stress-inducing. I know how difficult it can be to explain to aunts and uncles that they have no idea what they are doing after graduation.
At 77 minutes, the Film passes; but do not be fooled by the short duration. A lot can happen in and around the grounds of a two-story house with friends and family. Seligman manages to capture adorable mother-daughter moments alongside tangible sexual tensions between Danielle and his Ex – girlfriend, which adds emotional weight to the story in addition to its enjoyment value. The conclusion is satisfying and feels deserved given the small size of the narrative, but never relents in its painful awkwardness. Shiva Baby is a super fun and promising directorial debut, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.