For her debut feature film Emma Seligman adapted her only brilliant funny short SHIVA BABY so successfully that she picked up the Best Screenplay Award at Outfest this year. We always knew that ‘jews’ and ‘gays’ usually make good ingredients for comedy especially ones that take aim at both communities, but rarely do they do it with such genuine wit as Seligman.
This is the story of Danielle (Rachel Sennott) who we first see sitting astride a naked man making some very aggressive sexual noises. He turns out to be her ‘sugar daddy’ who she uses to fund her college studies. She is majoring In gender studies, which seems an appropriate subject for a young, bisexual Jewish woman
The lovemaking is interrupted by a phone call for her very pushy (and delightfully funny) mother Debbie (Polly Draper) demanding Danielle’s presence at the funeral of a family friend.
She doesn’t make the actual Funeral but before they can go into the house for the Shiva they need to get their stories right so she can boast of Danielle’s future. They feel the need to gloss over the fact that all she really does is “baby sitting” or so her mother thinks (when in reality she is having sex for money.)
Seligman fills the house with a cast of some wonderful prying neighbors/family (one of them is played so dryly by the fab Jackie Hoffman) and it looks like Danielle and her mother may just get away with their concocted story. Except for the presence of two unexpected guests.
The first is Maya (Molly Gordon) who is not only Danielle’s ex-girlfriend but to everyone’s delight (except Danielle) she can boast how exceptionally well she is doing at College. The two had parted on bad terms but it is obvious that the sexual chemistry is still there even though they should both be mourning. Danielle’s mother aware if this keeps warning ‘ No funny business with Maya!”
The second, and far more scarier figure is Max (Danny Deferrari) the sugar daddy, and neither of them had even known that they moved in the same Jewish circle. Danielle doesnt have long to take this all in when Max is joined by his ‘Shiksa Princess” wife and young baby. In this house all ready full of secrets (and food) you now know that the day is not going to pass without some of them being revealed.
It’s obvious that Seligman must have grown up in a tight-knit Jewish community like this where every compliment delivered has a stingy barb attached. Someone remarks to skinny Danielle “You look like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps!” The script is full of one-liners as good as this and they all land well, and they are spread evenly so all the actors as the Shiva get to have a laugh
Sennott gives a pitch perfect performance as the angst ridden self-absorbed Danielle and she easily convinced us that her continued state of hypertension is very justified. It seems somewhat cruel to laugh at all the indignities that are thrown at her ….. but then again, hey are very funny indeed.
In fact it seems slightly odd to call this a feel-good comedy but for us watching, it is that and more. Kudos to Seligman for proving that when a gay jewish comedy is authentic as this, it will make us more than happy to go to our next Shiva
(SHIVA BABY is streaming from Out On Film, New Fest and Miami Gems )