Watch this weekend movie: Shiva Baby, a claustrophobic adult comedy
The story goes that filmmaker Emma Seligman wrote a sci-fi script for her final year thesis at New York University. The script was apparently superficial and very poorly informed. So his teacher gave him a very basic piece of advice: “Write what you know. And that’s what she did. She was very familiar with two things at the time: the workings of the tight-knit Jewish community and the sugar dating culture, which she said was an important part of her college experience in New York City. She combined her knowledge of these two worlds and made a sex comedy called Shiva Baby. Do you see Emma’s clever pun with the title? Shiva Baby rhymes with sugar baby.
Shiva Baby follows the trying experience of Danielle (Rachel Sennott), who is locked in a house full of curious relatives and neighbors. Hell breaks loose when she bumps into her sugar daddy at the shiva, which is a time of mourning in the Jewish community.
In her early twenties, Danielle was overwhelmed by the pressure of society on her young shoulders. She does not yet know what to do with her life, which career to choose. She wants to experience all aspects of her life, including her vocation and her sexuality. You can easily identify with her when she is constantly asked what she is doing these days? Her bossy parents Debbie and Joel, played by the wonderful Polly Draper and Fred Melamed respectively, want her to lie to everyone at the shiva, because “log kya kahenge (what will people say)?”. Danielle is the story of every middle class Indian family who has a graduate who has yet to figure out what he or she wants to do with a living.
The universality of Danielle’s predicament hangs us on the narrative. Your heart skips a beat every time she is attacked by an intrusive parent, who apparently doesn’t understand the concept of privacy. And the atmosphere becomes claustrophobic with the arrival of Danielle’s sugar daddy Max, played by Danny Deferrari. If that’s not embarrassing, Danielle finds out that Max is married to a successful entrepreneur and a gorgeous woman, Kim, played by Dianna Agron. They have a beautiful baby together, and another is on the way.
Danielle’s indiscreet social circle makes her feel so helpless and inadequate all the time. This is the reason why she uses her sexuality to feel powerful and in control. While the awkwardness that pushes Danielle to a breaking point is unmistakably funny, the film also talks about the trauma of children who are forced to live up to unfair standards set by a very critical community. Societal pressure pushes them to make poor and regrettable choices.
The story is only about Danielle and her trauma. There is an angle for everyone. Even the characters who appear in the film for a few seconds leave an impression. Take, for example, Max. He is a tall, handsome man who is lucky to have good things in his life. Yet he is cheating on his wife. Why? Perhaps this is his way of battling his insecurity of being a trophy husband for an over-performing wife. Like Danielle, he also uses sex to assert his power and control his life.
Max’s wife Kim is unsure of her husband. She seems to fear that his entrepreneurial success will drive him away. Maybe she hopes that by starting a family, she can keep her marriage from going astray. It’s about being in control of your own life.
This film is an emotionally charged roller coaster ride, filled with vulnerability, anxiety attacks, regrets, chaos, doubts, guilt, fear, self-loathing, shame and yes, awkwardness. unending. And yet, it’s hilarious.
Shiva Baby is streaming on MUBI.