Starring Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed, and Dianna Agron
Written and directed by Emma Seligman
Unrated but contains scenes of coarse language and sexual situations
Runtime: 77 minutes
Available on video on demand platforms and various virtual cinemas across Canada (including VIFF Connect and Digital TIFF Bell Lightbox) starting Friday, April 2
Get ready for fast-paced Jewish humour in writer/director Emma Seligman’s bitingly smart début Shiva Baby. It started off its life as a remarkable short that was received with enough laughs and horror at SXSW in 2018 that she developed it into nearly 80 minutes of angst, confusion and misadventure in the life of Danielle.
Our protagonist is a twenty-something college senior having a terrible, no good, very bad day stuck in a full house for a shiva with her parents and other relatives, people that they are trying to set her up with, and her sugar daddy among others. Shiva is a mourning ritual, but this scenario is rich with humourous possibilities for the audience, starting with how Danielle doesn't even know who died.
Danielle (Rachel Sennott) has miserable parents – Debbie and Joel (perfectly played by Polly Draper and Fred Melamed) who badmouth each other in front of her, which might not be healthy behaviour for them or for her. The shiva itself contains a hundred characters, some of whom are romantic interests of hers. It's complicated ... especially because some of those people include her sugar daddy and her ex-girlfriend.
Others are nosy relative-types who insist on asking her uncomfortable questions about her life, her career, her relationships and everything else. Yup ... we get to watch her at a time when her life seems a bit like a pinball machine being played with dozens of emotional/psychological balls whizzing around fast and causing a lot of chaos. What fun!
Being a fly on the wall in this psychological was tremendously enjoyable. By the first eight minutes, I was absolutely squirming with empathy and anxiety in my seat. Ariel Marx's cello-plucking, piano-plinking score added tremendously to the sense of impending doom.
It premiered to great acclaim at last year's Toronto International Film Festival and won Best Screenplay at Outfest, putting Seligman on the Variety/Mill Valley Film Festival 10 Screenwriters to Watch list. Watch Seligman's career will surely only climb to the stars from here, but more importantly, watch Shiva Baby so you can say that you've followed all of her films since the beginning.