Dizzying and captivating, Emma Seligman’s feature-length debut stars Rachel Sennott as a young woman who cannot escape her sugar daddy, her ex-girlfriend or her own lies at a family wake.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2021
Shiva Baby is a relentless comedy of errors that opens with the sort of discordant string music one would ordinarily expect from a horror film – and it soon becomes abundantly clear why. Danielle (Rachel Sennott) is in a personal and professional rut, made worse by the attendees of a family shiva who relitigate her relationship status, her diminishing weight and her limited career prospects with almost religious fervour. As if a victim of karmic retribution, Danielle is ambushed when her over-achieving ex-girlfriend and secret sugar daddy enter the fray, resulting in a perfect storm of hilarity and cloying, claustrophobic humiliation.
Adapted from her 2018 short film of the same name, Seligman savours each uncomfortable moment in Shiva Baby, documenting the carnage that erupts as Danielle’s vastly different personas collide. Refusing to let the audience observe the embarrassment at arm’s length, Seligman’s direction insists her viewers get up close and personal, tightly focusing our attention on Danielle as things begin to unravel. At times, it feels like a battle of wills as we wait to see whose resolve will crack first – Danielle’s or our own – but moments of humour and humanity are a perfect balm for the string of misadventures you’ll be grateful to experience secondhand. With a wonderful performance from Rachel Sennott at its heart, Shiva Baby will immediately draw you in and hold fast. — Samantha Gianotti
“Think of this late-coming-of-age farce as a funny ‘Krisha’ or the indoor apocalypse that takes place in “Mother!” – but with broken glass objects, a deafeningly screaming baby, a relentlessly suspicious wife and prying relatives instead of blood and guts.” — Tomris Laffly, Variety