All Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby needs is more than five minutes to build controlled chaos within the world it constructs. It’s a film of Jewish adults socializing and hiding some secrets.
One of Shiva Baby‘s young adults is Danielle (Rachel Sennott), who calls herself a baby sitter. During a distant relative’s funeral, she has to pretend to be that and more. Unfortunately, things are about to get worse.
Walking into the door is a man, Max (Danny Deferrari), who is Danielle’s sugar daddy. Max is one more person in the crowd who knows about her. Already in the funeral is Danielle’s ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon). The film digs into its characters’ relationships.
Sexual freedom is just one hurdle that Danielle has to overcome. Danielle’s major hurdle is her career, as her parents (Polly Draper and Fred Melamed) have plans for her. They’re using the funeral to network for her, which many parents do.
The film is also a great window to the Jewish experience, specifically in this century, where progress and tradition are in constant conflict. The house’s vibrant ground floor shows how those dynamics play out.
Power struggles happen in the house, especially between Danielle and Max’s wife Kim (Dianna Agron). Shiva Baby utilizes its great ensemble cast, especially in a film where characters perpetually compare themselves to each other. The film delivers its precarious energy well.
Sennott makes for a great leader in Seligman’s cast, playing a character who is living her worst nightmare for audiences to see. A character close to boiling point, she makes Danielle react well to her tragicomic chaos.
But the film is equally interesting when characters step away from the house’s crowded areas. Specifically, there are scenes with Danielle and Maya, talking to each other like they’ve known each other forever.