Movie Review: Shiva Baby
Fear the family meetings. Extended relatives plucking at your emotions, asking why you’ve yet to settle down and buy a house, where your lucky partner is or how your job prospects are going. The answer to all of those questions is either “fine”, or a complete and unremitting breakdown that brings to light the various horrors and problems that have been buried underneath for generations.
Untangling such a mess is futile and impossible, but commiserations to those few brave souls trying to do so.
Shiva Baby sees one such slight attempt, as Danielle (Rachel Sennott) tries to navigate a wake without causing disruptions for her family, friends, ex-girlfriend, sugar daddy, grandparent and relatives.
Everything that could go wrong does indeed go wrong, horrendously so at times, but director Emma Seligman captures the harshness of these thoughtless comments, and how close they can cut when underlying secrets are unintentionally tapped into.
Keeping the wheels turning with rapid pacing and effective pockets of high-strung horrors found in the soundtrack, Shiva Baby does a tremendous job of creating claustrophobia and tension for our leading character.
Sennott’s performance is incredible, a strong leading role paired nicely with exceptional direction. They capture a woman attempting to take control of her rapidly changing surroundings, peppering in the odd golden line of comedy or exceptional shot of dramatic tension.
Clear from its running time and the way moments of interest bubble up to the surface, Shiva Baby gathers a competent cast and crew, able to stretch themselves to the far reaches of exceptional brilliance.
Relatives pop up out of nowhere, any sharp turn or entry into a new room can offer up unexpected results and random bump-ins for this leading character. Certainly effective, especially since these moments feel genuine.
The supporting performances are integral, keeping the film moving efficiently with their accidental verbal assaults on the mental psyche of Danielle and those around her. Fred Melamed, in particular, makes his presence felt in such a short handful of scenes, as the unknowing parent hearing but not understanding the problems at hand not so much a trope but a truth of most families.
Shiva Baby can pride itself on fast pacing and credibly brilliant dialogue. The awkward brilliance found within Seligman’s film is masterful.
With a clear suggestion and musing on how we drift away from nosy family members because of the unnecessary stress they cause. No harm with a tightly-knit collection of relatives, peppering in the extended family whenever death or love occurs to one of its members.
Capturing the condescension and fumbling mundanity of family gatherings, but also the fondness for those few pieces that make it all worth sticking around for, Shiva Baby offers strong moments of credible integrity, presenting itself as an intensely strong piece.