March 25, 2021

SCREEN | Sleeping Around and Sitting 'Shiva Baby'

"Such nice girls."
Rachel Sennott Molly Gordon Emma Seligman | Shiva Baby
Utopia / Pacific Northwest Pictures
Jewish-Canadian writer/director Emma Seligman (a Toronto native) makes her feature filmmaking debut with the clever indie comedy, Shiva Baby, adapted from her 2018 short film. Starring Rachel Sennott as an aimless bisexual college senior moonlighting as a sex worker, Danielle, the film quickly becomes a sort of chaotic screwball farce set at a titular Jewish ceremonial family gathering when she runs into her sugar daddy whom she realizes her parents know.

Co-starring Molly Gordon (as the ex-girlfriend), Danny Deferrari (the client), and Dianna Agron (his perfect blonde shiksa wife) as various entanglements to Danielle, the very theatrical film relies heavily on its absurdist character interactions feeling both genuine and awkwardly heightened to maximize the situational nature of the script's impressive humour. Veteran character actors Polly Draper and Fred Melamed are sublime as Danielle's very Jewish parents who deflect her at every turn as pitch-perfect comedic foils.

Sennott channels a vibrant sense of directionless frustration superbly just as the burning tension of the story's themes makes her surroundings more and more claustrophobic. Personal boundaries are so easily crossed as Seligman's creative dramatizations become so hyperrealistic in their biting nature.

Seligman's almost real-time, single-location film feels nearly entirely on-point in its daring aggressiveness. Shiva Baby so sharply interrogates issues of sexual identity and freedom within the lens of Jewish traditions so comically. How it breaks down intersections of selfhood and desire through situational anxieties highlights its sophisticated humour.

Shiva Baby is available to stream on various digital platforms including VIFF Connect and through video on demand starting April 2nd.


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