TIFF Movie Review: “Shiva Baby”

Year: 2020
Runtime: 77 minutes
Writer: Emma Seligman
Directed by: Emma Seligman
Stars: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed, and Dianna Agron

By Rosa Parra

Shiva is a seven-day mourning period following the death of a family member in the Jewish religion. In “Shiva Baby,” written and directed by Emma Seligman, a young bisexual Jewish woman (Rachel Sennott) finds herself in an inopportune situation when she attends such a gathering. 

Danielle attends college while struggling with societal, religious, and family expectations. The film introduces her having sex with an older man, Max (Danny Deferrari). After leaving his house, she meets her family to attend the Shiva, where she notices an unexpected guest, her ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon).

Rachel Sennott in “Shiva Baby” / Courtesy of IMDB.com

It doesn’t take long before Danielle’s situation becomes even more awkward. Max arrives at the gathering, followed by his wife, Kim (Dianna Agron), with their young baby. It turns out Danielle’s father and Max have acquaintances in common.

After an embarrassing yet thrilling introduction of Max to Danielle, her mother notices the way Danielle looks at Max. Quickly taking Danielle to the kitchen, she tells her about Max’s family. Sennott’s facial expression sells her genuine surprise learning the facts about Max’s life, and from this moment forward, “Shiva Baby” turns into a thriller that’ll keep viewers at the edge of their seats. They’ll laugh, too. The film is a comedy, a thriller, and a drama with a bit of suspense peppered throughout.

I’ve always been frustrated by the lack of bisexual onscreen representation, so for that reason alone, “Shiva Baby” is refreshing to view. But the film also brilliantly captures how Danielle’s anxiety and insecurities slowly escalate through her body language as she attempts to come to terms with her new reality.

What could be worse than a nontraditional personal life while struggling with a career? You guessed it! A set of overcontrolling parents. As the film progresses, we understand why Danielle’s insecurities exist and exert tremendous amounts of pressure and expectations on her shoulders. The comedy in “Shiva Baby” provides enough levity to distract the audience from the chaos throughout. The notion that this film takes place in one day works in its favor.    

“Shiva Baby” is a welcome depiction of the different ranges of the female experience. Women are always under pressure from societal expectations related to their careers, physical appearance, and personal life (being constantly asked when they’ll marry, for instance). Family members compare female relatives to other women but fail to recognize the possibility of causing more harm than motivation.

Max’s wife is regularly praised for being an entrepreneur, portraying her as a successful woman. She’s flowered with compliments for being a stunning woman, making her synonymous with the perfect role model to idolize. To place the cherry on top, Danielle’s pushed to be similar to Kim. Her mother even suggests she work for Kim, making this setup extremely uncomfortable yet exhilarating to watch unfold.

Overall, “Shiva Baby” is an enjoyable film that keeps viewers engaged in its story anchored by a strong leading performance. Although the ending is slightly disappointing, “Shiva Baby” is bound to distract from your everyday life once you take a ride in Danielle’s.   


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