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Shiva Baby review: it’s complicated

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Just try to behave yourself today, his mother pleads. But alas, greater forces in the universe seem to be working against Danielle (Rachel Sennott), who discovers that every potential landmine in her life is simultaneously exploding at a family friend’s shiva in the chilling comedy Emma Seligmans Shiva. Baby.

Danielle feels particularly aimless; her parents still pay her bills, and the money she tells them they earn from babysitting is actually contributed by sugar daddies (older men who pay her sexual favors and attention) . She is already troubled by interrogations of family friends and the unexpected presence of an ex-girlfriend (Molly Gordon), when her main benefactor (Danny Deferrari) walks in the door with his previously unmentioned wife ( Dianna Agron) and her baby in tow.

The unique location and tight schedule of Seligmans’ screenplay give it the effectiveness of a well-constructed play. But Daniels’ ordeal is as tense as any thriller, with the tense chatter, hearty side stares, and unapologetic gossip augmented by nervous camera work, jarring sound effects, and a jarring, dissonant musical score. It’s rare that a movie simultaneously balances such extremely divergent tones, interweaving big laughs with heartbreaking discomfort, but Seligman succeeds.

Its casting helps. Sennott is a revelation, and that’s important; she carries much of the weight of the images on her face and her ability to express increasing levels of stress and unmoved reactions. She is surrounded by some of the best actors in the game (including a remarkable turn from Fred Melamed as a father), as she and Gordon beautifully convey the pain, anger, and waste heat of their relationship.

Seligman stacks up complications with the mechanical precision of a Rube Goldberg machine, but never at the service of the authentic emotions at the heart of the images. Near the conclusion, Danielle gives in to the helplessness of being completely overwhelmed, a moment that perhaps lands with more impact after a year of collective isolation and fear. Shiva Baby knows this feeling, and one important one besides: that in the midst of uninterrupted stress and distraction, a moment of spontaneous calm and tenderness can make all the difference.

Baby Shiva
Unclassified. Duration: 1 hour 17 minutes. In some cinemas and available for rental or purchase at Apple tv, google play and other streaming platforms and pay-TV operators. Please consult Guiding lines described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies in theaters.

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