Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby is a comedy of manners from hell (in the best way possible).
Setting the stage at a shiva that is either accommodating too many people or taking place at a house that’s too small, Seligman’s self-penned screenplay clings to the perspective of an unambitious college student, Danielle (Rachel Sennott). Attending with her family yet hardly knowing the deceased or anyone at this social gathering, Danielle is just wanting to survive in a sea of invasive strangers. The afternoon tenses up when Danielle spots Max (Danny Deferrari) in attendance, a “friend with benefits” that she would rather not intervene with her personal life – likewise for him especially after his wife (Dianna Agron) is mentioned in conversation and shows up at the shiva with their child.
Because the space is so confined during these silent exchanges, people around Danielle rubberneck and direct their interest towards her anxiety. The most curious guest is ex-girlfriend and aspiring lawyer Maya (Molly Gordon), who is constantly positioned against Danielle by family when relatives compare accomplishments and life goals.
The comedy in Shiva Baby stems from people trying to be on their best behaviour, but can’t help but have vivid conversations and opinions through their subtext. Using atmospheric tricks we’ve seen before in Uncut Gems but applying them in a more awkwardly comedic fashion, Seligman brilliantly milks absurd laughs through the lack of privacy and space within the film. The tension is broken up by Danielle finding solace in the bathroom, which helps movie goers catch their breath as well, but Seligman is eager to continue stirring the pot. The results are more and more satisfying as the film rolls along.
Shiva Baby is terrific and resourceful, using each second of screen time extremely well as the film fires like a bullet. By the time the film finishes, the audience can’t help but feel as if they’ve been squeezed through the ringer but, like Danielle, we’re constantly on our toes and continuously surprised by each new wrinkle this unwinding story offers. The only difference: we enjoy it a lot more than she does.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie