‘Shiva Baby’ Review: It’s Complicated
“Just try to behave yourself today,” her mother pleads. Unfortunately, greater forces in the universe seem to be at work against Danielle (Rachel Sennott) who starred in Emma Seligman’s nerve-wracking comedy “Shiva Baby. ”
Danielle feels particularly aimless; Her parents are still paying their bills, and the money she makes babysitting them is actually provided by “sugar fathers” (older men who pay them for sexual favors and attention). She’s already upset about the interrogations of family friends and the unexpected presence of an ex-girlfriend (Molly Gordon) when her main benefactor (Danny Deferrari) walks in the door – with his previously unrecognized wife (Dianna Agron) and their baby in tow.
The single location and the collapsed timeframe of Seligman’s script give it the efficiency of a well-constructed stage play. But Danielle’s ordeal is as tense as any thriller, with the tense small talk, the copious sidelong eyes, and the apologetic gossip amplified by nervous camera work, harrowing sound effects, and a clanking, dissonant musical score. It’s rare for a film to simultaneously balance such wildly divergent tones, interweaving great laughs with uncomfortable complaints, but Seligman manages it.
Your cast helps. Sennott is a revelation and that is important; She carries much of the weight of the picture on her face and its ability to express the increasing levels of stress and dead reactions. She’s surrounded by some of the game’s best character actors (including a standout twist from Fred Melamed as her father) while she and Gordon convey the pain, anger, and leftover heat of their relationship in a wonderful way.
Seligman accumulates the complications with the clockwork precision of a Rube Goldberg machine, but never in the service of the real emotions at the core of the picture. As she nears graduation, Danielle indulges in sheer helplessness, completely overwhelmed, a moment that may become even more powerful after a year of collective isolation and fear. “Shiva Baby” knows this and another important feeling: In the midst of uninterrupted stress and distraction, a moment of quiet, unsolicited tenderness can make all the difference.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 17 minutes. In selected cinemas and available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms as well as pay TV operators. Please consult the Policies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before viewing films in theaters.