Shiva Baby is a comedy-drama film directed by Canadian filmmaker Emma Seligman. Uniquely, the filmmaker adapted this film from her short with the same title. This film stars Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed, and Dianna Agron. Movies with Yahuni traditions and backgrounds have been widely used in the medium of film, but never with this kind of remarkable achievement.
A young girl, Danielle (Sennott), is invited by her parents to attend a shiva (Jewish mourning ceremony) at her aunt’s house. At this moment, Danielle became the easy target of her relatives regarding school, career, and sex life. All the guests present seemed to be gossiping about her. The presence of Max and his wife, the man he had just dated, added to the complexity and heat of the atmosphere.
Never before have I watched a comedy-drama film so intense and adorable like this. It was like watching a nonstop action thriller. The film runs almost real-time (with no lag time), with 90% of the story taking place in one location. The script written by the filmmaker herself is genuinely extraordinary. Danielle’s perspective does the plot develop dynamically, from conversation to conversation, with increasing intensity. The script can flow the dialogue from one character to another in such a clever manner without being the least bit pushy with the right topic. I can say this film script is one of the best for the genre.
One of the primary keys to the success of the script is the remarkable achievement of the cast. Rachel Sennott, who plays Danielle, is the main star. Sennott can play excellently to maintain his acting stamina to play a classified character as challenging to play. Expressions of anxiety, doubt, jealousy, and self-confidence played alternately, captivatingly, from moment to moment. Oscar Cup? Why not. Other castings? The mother and father, Max and his wife, her lesbian lover Maya, even the baby, all played perfectly.
Extraordinary aesthetic achievements also supported the brilliant script and casting. The debutant seems to know very well how she should package the film. The unique musical illustrations are certainly the ones that steal the most attention. For some reason, the music that has horror/thriller nuances fits in the right atmosphere/mood for the figure of Danielle. For Danielle, this moment is a horror for her. The combination of dynamic handheld camera movement processing combined with effective editing (often POV cutting), as well as image colour (one “drunk” scene), often produces dramatic, surprising, even shocking moments in some of its stages. It is also awe-inspiring how the filmmaker uses the baby’s cry to strengthen the character’s mental status in one scene. Watch out; Emma Seligman is a filmmaker to be reckoned with.
Needing only one small moment at the exact location, Shiva Baby can present many layers of the story through the captivating performances of the cast, especially Rachel Sennott, as well as a classy aesthetic approach. It’s rare for a comedy-drama genre like this to have this kind of accomplishment. Only through a specific perspective of religious figures and traditions can we accept the story universally well. The essence of the story is not about tradition or religion but about a human being who is looking for her identity amid the hustle and bustle of an increasingly crazier life. What a film, what a cast, and what a director.