SHIVA BABY (Emma Seligman) has its viewers attending a Jewish Shiva, a mourning period for immediate family, and this film excels at making everyone feel like immediate family. Primarily following the experiences of Danielle (Rachel Sennett), she is first seen having a sexual encounter, later revealed to be a paid arrangement. She claims to make extra money babysitting, but unbeknownst to anyone else, it is merely a cover story for paid sex. The clandestine encounters are arranged via an app, and the clients are called sugar daddies.
Following the brief sexual beginning, which introduces Danielle, and a sugar daddy named Max (Danny Deferrari), the remainder of the film takes place at the Shiva. Much to Danielle’s shock and upset, the event is attended by Max, with his wife (Dianna Agron) and infant daughter. Also in attendance is Maya (Molly Gordon), a former best friend that grew distant, and many family members that aren’t afraid to speak their minds.
Danielle’s mother (Polly Draper) is like an antagonist, frequently manhandling Danielle into ever more awkward situations, one being a prospective job interview with Max’s wife. It’s shown how much the family values love and generosity, yet it often ventures into the territory of tough love. Part of what makes Danielle such a great character, is her aimlessness and lust for new experiences, which is not unfamiliar to young adults. It’s learned that she has been open to sexual experimentation, and much to her mother’s disappointment, had previously taken Maya as such a partner.
As the event continues, it can seem a little unclear as to who knows what. Danielle feels like a disappointment to her parents, and her attempts to cover her endless self-discovery, create a compounding series of stories. What Danielle is studying at university is without consensus, even amongst family members. Everyone knows she babysits, but that isn’t the truth either. Her mother speaks unwanted embellishments, and Danielle doesn’t want to be at this ceremony, nor does she actually know who died.
Danielle is tormented by the presence of her client, made worse by the revelation that he’s a husband and father. She can barely make eye contact with his wife, and has a short fuse for the baby’s interruptive crying. That a baby was brought to such an event is noted by all. Danielle becomes paranoid, and in a psychological phenomenon, she’s shown to seek his attention, at the price of her own revulsion.
SHIVA BABY is a tense film. There are some very, very awkward moments. There are times one can feel how nerve-wracking this experience is for Danielle. There are moments of comedy: an old grandmother that insists on driving without a license, and Danielle’s father (Fred Melamed) who is often too helpful. Ultimately, the outcomes are not all bad. The film excels at communicating emotion. The story has a very genuine flow, and a ferocious human element.
SHIVA BABY is now available on Apple TV, Google Play & Cineplex Store.