Can you physically die from cringe? This is probably as close as you will get to it!
The young Danielle (Rachel Senott) is having passionate sex with her sugar daddy Max (Danny Deferrari). They are interrupted by her telephone. Danielle’s mother asks her daughter to rush over to a shiva, a Jewish mourning ceremony. These are sombre affairs where people chat, eat and wish the families of the deceased a long life. Danielle rocks up late. After brief introductions, she realises that Max is there, too. And he knows her parents. Hilarious twists and turns follow, as Danielle grapples with the unexpected encounter. She has to hide her affair from her relatives, while also watching Max engage with his own family.
Seligman captures the overbearing, claustrophobic atmosphere of these Jewish community gatherings with perfection. Parents gossip, while the elders chomp food. Smoked-salmon and cream-cheese bagels feature heavily throughout the story. This heightened reality works wonders. The social horror piles up with discordant strings and nauseating close-ups.
People from all sides ask Danielle if she has a boyfriend, what she is doing with her life and why she has lost so much weight. At one point her mother tells her “you look like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps!”. To make things even worse, Danielle’s past girlfriend, Maia, shows up too. Successfully completing law school, Maia represents everything Danielle isn’t: successful and confident.
With a relentless pace and sarcastic humour drier than the Sahara, Shiva Baby is one of the funniest and most original films of the year. It successfully paints the portrait of a young woman struggling with the expectations put upon her and alienation from her very own community. Danielle seeks to achieve her independence in the most cumbersome, cringeworthy way.
Shiva Baby is showing at the UK Jewish Film Festival. On Mubi on Wednesday, June 9th.