Outfest 2020: A young bisexual woman confronts her past and present in the very funny, "Shiva Baby"
Imagine showing up to a memorial service, only to run into your ex-girlfriend, your boyfriend/sugar daddy, his wife and child, AND have to lie through your teeth to everyone. That's exactly what happens to Danielle (Rachel Sennott) when at the insistence of her loving but overbearing parents (Polly Draper and Fred Melamed) she attends a family friend's Shiva service and becomes embroiled in a non-stop drama-filled roller coaster. Danielle, who is finishing her last year of college in a self-created major involving gender and business (she's never really clear) leaves her sugar daddy Max's apartment after a morning tryst to attend the event with her parents. She almost immediately runs into her ex Maya (Molly Gordon), whose picture is still the background on Danielle's phone, and the two start arguing. There are clearly unresolved issues between the young women and a current of chemistry that even their parents can see. That would be challenging enough, but when Max shows up and turns out to be both married and a new father, Danielle starts to feel the floor slip out beneath her. The next few hours are a cat and mouse game between Danielle and Maya, and Danielle and Max, and Max's wife Kim (Dianna Agron).
Shiva Baby was adapted into a full-length feature from a 2017 short film by writer/director Emma Seligman. While Seligman is still a relative newcomer to the film world, she handles Shiva Baby like an experienced pro, creating an atmosphere of romantic tension, familial awkwardness, and Danielle's aimless sense of self as she wanders through packed rooms of mourners trying to find some steady ground. We feel Danielle's claustrophobia as well-meaning aunts and family friends descend upon her asking about boyfriends and career goals, not to mention the withering, icy cold stares from Kim as the veil of lies Danielle and Max build to cover their relationship begins to slip. Maya, who still pines for Danielle despite bristling when they speak, becomes Danielle's lifeline, albeit a conflicted one.
Sennott as Danielle, makes her second appearance at Outfest in Shiva Baby, previously playing a major role in Tahara. Sennott really soars in this role, making Danielle an anti-heroine you can sympathize with, especially if you've ever felt lost in the world. Her timing is impeccable as Danielle, and when she teams up with Gordon as Maya, they play off each other's energy and chemistry well. Agron is terrific as Kim, a sweet and successful businesswoman, and new mom, who slowly but surely sees through Danielle and Max's ruse. Draper and Melamed deliver strong performances as always as Danielle's parents, who despite their vocalized hopes and expectations, love and support their daughter.
Shiva Baby has some wonderful laugh-out-loud moments, a searing kiss in the second act, missing cell phones, mispronounced rugelach, stomach sinking revelations, and of course, a baby. "Who brings a baby to a Shiva?" Danielle's mother and friends ask. You'll soon understand why.