Shiva Baby (2020)
December 13, 2021 11:57 PM - Subscribe

At a Jewish funeral service with her parents, a college student runs into her sugar daddy.

College student Danielle is faced with a series of awkward encounters at a day-long shiva, a Jewish gathering during a time of mourning. Amongst overbearing relatives, she is rattled by the appearance of an ex-girlfriend and of her secret sugar daddy, who unexpectedly arrives with his wife and baby.

Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner: The choices Danielle makes and the things she says are cringeworthy in the best way. She is far from an aspirational character, she is instead an embodiment of stereotypes slightly reconfigured to create a character I’d probably strongly dislike if I met her at a shiva, or elsewhere. It’s easy to cringe at her poor choices — like sending a sext from the cramped bathroom of a mourning stranger’s home — but also at her privilege and dismissiveness of the nagging adults as though she was a child. In the wake of rising antisemitism worldwide, it’s important to recognize the ways in which Jewish people are portrayed in popular and indie culture, and remember that everyone, regardless of identity is unique.

Queer representation on screen is stronger than ever before, leaving space for critique and questioning. I am almost cringing at home many times I rewatched Kissing Jessica Stein from 2007 until, well, today, simply because there was nothing else like it. I want films to tell a compelling story — ones that are entertaining, escapist, and that straddle lines between queer and mainstream. I loved how much I disliked Danielle and how different we were despite sharing similar identities. The film served as a reminder of how desperately I want to love everything female and queer. I know some films will just full-on fail at truly representing me, but I still welcome all queer Jewish female characters who aren’t me onto my screens, and in fact —I look forward to disliking them.

Wenlei Ma: Seligman’s use of sound and space to create this horror is a marvel to behold. The perfectly timed screeches of a crying baby is like a cat scratching on a chalkboard in your head while the subtly dizzying camera makes it seems as if the walls are literally closing in on Danielle.

The performances are all perfectly calibrated to stress you out, each of them the equivalent of your most annoying uncle with no sense of boundaries.

As the heart of it is also a story about a young woman who’s navigating that liminal age where she obviously feels like she wants to assert her own desires – and make her own mistakes – but where her helicopter parents and her community infantilise her out of love and care.

And it’s the foundation of those themes that makes the deeply uncomfortable Shiva Baby all the more effective, because it may be extreme but the low-key relatability of Danielle’s terrible day is why Shiva Baby is scarier than a horror movie.

Max Weiss: So yeah, a lot is happening. Seligman often keeps the camera trained on Sennott’s expressive face—as Danielle registers all manner of horror, disgust, and mortification. The soundtrack, ominous plucked strings that eventually get more insistent, intentionally mirrors that of a horror film. Every time Danielle tries to retreat—outside for a breather or into the bathroom, she’s cornered, by her mother, by Max’s increasingly suspicious wife, by Maya, or by any number of prying old ladies, who are particularly concerned with her weight. (“How much do you weigh?”; “You look like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps.”)

posted by Carillon (2 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What an anxiety producing film! It certainly reads like a horror in a lot of places. Thankfully it's short as I think it's so effective at producing a reaction that I would have had a harder time living with it for 2 hours.
posted by Carillon at 8:26 AM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Loved this movie! It was very anxiety inducing yet darkly hilarious. A great treatise on how the traditions of a culture that are intended to be comforting and supporting of community can also be alienating if you're not in step. Rachel Sennet was great and I look forward to seeing her in more things (she was also great in this Hulu horror short).
posted by ejs at 2:31 PM on December 19, 2021

« Older Gukyeongi: Inspector Koo (aka ...   |  Movie: The Last Duel... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments