Director Emma Seligman brings the most refreshing debut to Americana 2021: an energetic, verbose and neurotic comedy set during a Shiva, a Jewish mourning ritual. Starring surprising newcomer Rachel Sennott as Danielle, Shiva Baby puts its main protagonist squarely in a hellish situation where a successful ex-girlfriend, a sugar daddy accompanied by his wife and daughter, and the entire extended family are reunited under one roof. Furthermore, all this happens during the wake of a relative she hardly knew.
Seligman uses every resource at her disposition to make viewers experience Danielle’s frustration and anxiety: over-the-shoulder shots that stammeringly follow the faces of the other characters, a frenzied montage, an anxiogenic score (and constant baby whimpering), and a script filled with non-stop, dizzying chit-chat typical of big gatherings.
Expanded from a short film presented at SXSW, Seligman made her protagonist a modern young woman who lives without giving explanations to anyone: bisexual, finishing a career in gender studies, and living, shamelessly, on the money offered by her sugar daddies. However, her calculated modus vivendi risks of being exposed when she attends the crowded Jewish wake.
With a supporting cast that includes some of the best actors and actresses of indie films such as Molly Gordon (Booksmart), Fred Melamed (Lemon) and Dianna Agron (Tumbledown), Shiva Baby is without a doubt one of the greatest comedies of the year. A vibrant and biting feature which, as it only happens in the best films, ends leaving us wanting more.