Tuesday, January 31st | 9 Shevat 5783

July 5, 2021 11:39 am

‘Shiva Baby’ Will Give You Something to Talk About

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avatar by Alan Zeitlin


A promotional photo for “Shiva Baby.” Photo: Courtesy of TIFF.

Danielle doesn’t want the secret of her sugar daddy to come out — certainly not at a shiva call. And the young woman is hiding more from her father Joel (Fred Melamed), who wears a yarmulke, and her mother, who has an inkling into her daughter’s bisexuality.

As anyone who has been to a shiva knows, it can be very awkward, where one doesn’t know what to say, and too much food can seem like a buffet. At one moment in the film, Joel ignores everything else when he sees the desserts are served.

Writer and director Emma Seligman has crafted a masterpiece here, as the film is part comedy and part horror, largely contingent on the sparse score of the film, mostly done by string instruments in staccato fashion.

Danielle, played by an amazingly brilliant Rachel Senott, shows anger, confusion, vulnerability, and a feeling of being trapped by her parents. She’s on the attack when it comes to her friend Maya, and just wants everyone to leave her alone. But they don’t. People touch her waist and ask if she has an eating disorder. They all ask if she has a boyfriend, though a very funny older woman (Jackie Hoffman) implies she may be looking for a girlfriend.

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The film is nearly perfect other than a bit of heavy-handedness with the crying of a baby, and an opening scene that tries a bit too hard to shock us. There is a scene toward the end of the film where people are stuffing their faces with food like animals and the sound is slowed down, and it is really horrific. The script is sharp and funny.

If Shiva Baby seems like a strange title, that’s fine, because this is a strange movie. But that’s not a bad thing.

The movie has exceptional dialogue, and there is little fat or waste in this film. Melamed is perfect as the nice guy who is naive. And as Danielle’s mother, Polly Draper, is hilarious as an uber self-conscious woman who sees part of what her daughter is hiding.

There will surely be some who criticize the film and say it stereotypes Jews. I would say to them, if you’ve been to a shiva, many of these characters are true to form. That there is apathy toward tradition among the youth is simply true to life. And don’t complain about the bagels. There have been bagels at every shiva I attended.

Shiva Baby is a film that deals with important topics of sexuality, faith, parental responsibility, and feminism. It is a movie that will make you laugh, make you sad, and make you horrified. You will certainly not forget it. The film is out now, and can be streamed online.

The author is a writer based in New York.

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