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  Shiva Baby The Pressure Of Expectation
Year: 2020
Director: Emma Seligman
Stars: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed, Dianna Agron, Jackie Hoffman, Sondra James, Deborah Offner, Vivien Landau, Glynis Bell, Cilda Shaur, Ariel Eliaz
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Danielle (Rachel Sennott) is unsure of where to progress now she has been in college and gained a qualification in gender business studies, but has no idea what to do with it. Her mother (Polly Draper) would have liked her to go to law school, but it was not to be, and to compound Danielle's embarrassment her ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon) actually is attending law school - her mother is pleased they broke up, at least. However, things are about to come to a head one day after she has been sleeping with her sugar daddy, businessman Max (Danny Deferrari), and she gets a phone call ordering her to attend a shiva for a dead person she barely remembers. And everyone she knows seems to be there...

Shiva Baby was based on writer and director Emma Seligman's short film, which is a decent training ground if you want to try out your ideas for a feature, precisely what she did with this. It had the same lead, and progressed not unlike an American Mike Leigh play in that it depicted a set of circumstances constructed around the dramatic and comedic possibilities of being at a social gathering that you could have done without - certainly that was the case for Danielle, whose discomfort provided the piece with both its dramatic heft and its potential for humour at her expense, and that of the guests. You could accuse Seligman of playing up to stereotypes of Jewish families with their nosy, aspirational chit-chat, but you supposed she knew of which she spake.

And besides, it was not as if every large gathering in every community across the globe was not prone to all those elements, 'twas the way of the world after all, so if you were not Jewish and thought on hearing the synopsis this was not for you, there could be something to relate to here after all. Really it was about piling the pressure on Danielle, as the longer she spends time at the titular shiva, the more hot water she gets into, especially when Max shows up, with his wife (Dianna Agron) and his baby. As Danielle is making her meagre income, supplemented by her parents, by babysitting, she should be able to put up a front that enables her to get through the next few hours, yet as the afternoon goes on, she grows ever more anguished and hard done by thanks to random events.

For instance, it was not merely the social aspect that troubles her, she is victim to snagging her leg on an item of furniture (drawing blood!) and having someone spill their coffee all over her white blouse. Yet it was a mark of how mixed up she was that she spent part of her time as respite in the bathroom taking a topless photo that she texts to Max (don't get too excited, we don't see much, just enough to know she’s making inadvisable decisions). Agron's Kim, naturally, suspects the truth, notably when she notices her husband has bought his mistress the same bracelet she has, and we watch through our fingers as we await some comeuppances. Not helping is difficult to read Maya who runs hot and cold with her, but just might provide her with redemption. Yet the tone, while ostensibly comedic, was more like a horror movie as Danielle is increasingly terrified and suffocated with her fears, and if you suffer social anxiety, this was not the film for you, even with its relatively calm resolution - it was very well made, occasionally laugh out loud funny, but angsty. Music by Ariel Marx.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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