Emma Seligman created a masterpiece!!
Yes, that’s what I felt as I delved into a day in the life of Danielle, a bisexual young woman with a secret life of her own who one day visits a Jewish memorial service only to meet her two greatest horrors in the same room. A lesbian ex-lover from the past and her present sugar daddy, who, to top everything up, accompanied by his ‘perfect’ entrepreneur wife and baby! An experimentally anticipated version of Seligman’s 2018 eight-minute short, MUBI’s latest addition is nothing less than a fine work of art.
Picture Courtesy – Variety
The film opens with an intimate shot of her and Max (the sugar daddy played by a perfect Danny Deferrari) where one can hear Danielle’s fake moans loudly and then watch her abruptly get ready after being interrupted by a phone call. After you see Max handling Danielle some cash and an awkward hug between the couple, you know Danielle’s profession. While we see Danielle being self-assured in the first scene of the movie, cut to the second we feel this assurance to be dwindling and thus we find our central character to be as relatable as we all are in our 20s. Stuck in an existential crisis.
We see her in a neatly tied bun and face with no makeup entering an overbearing Jew household. She accompanies her intimidating, boundaries-free mother (an inimitable Polly Draper) and an easy-going father (played pleasantly by Fred Melamed) who comes down heavy on Danielle. We quickly get an idea about her existential crisis as we find each of her aunts, cousins, distant uncle eyeing her, judging her, and critiquing her life choices. Be it her sudden weight loss being attributed to her apparent eating disorder, her past is questioned innumerable times. The people around her even undermine her lack of knowledge for her choice of degree in gender studies. She and her once prom date and lover, Maya (Molly Gordon) is constantly kept under watch by everyone as their awkwardness lingers due to lack of closure in their past relationship. Seligman aces these scenes through incisive dialogues to create a tense atmosphere with extreme comedic precision.
Picture Courtesy – MUBI
I feel it’s a horror
Have you ever felt that you needed a break while watching a movie? Be it something unsettling (like Midsommer) or too-much-to-handle gore (like Hereditary), Shiva Baby creates a claustrophobic environment for women where you see a woman’s silent cry of crippling anxiety calls be overpowered by a room full of people talking about the weird taste of Bagels. The film’s simple setup perfectly contrasts with its complications and the way Seligman handles the revelations of the truth behind people’s actions shines throughout each scene. But it’s the nauseating claustrophobia she creates that really makes the movie a masterpiece, as Danielle struggles her through everything while her mother and kin constantly talk at her, around her, and through her.
Rachel and Emma are the real Queens!!
Picture Courtesy – Talkhouse
Rachel Sennott is the actress I would have seen as Danielle because she aces the character to perfection. She is terrific as a young woman who finds herself empowered by sugaring around while constantly having to hide her sexuality and true self from her overbearing parents and family. Sennott, a comedian first, feels perfectly pitched as Danielle as her social media presence blends aspirational self-love and feverish neuroticism. Danielle’s character and mannerisms show how extensively Emma and Rachel have worked on her. Just like another woman, there’s a lot that Danielle needs to play around with carefully. Her bisexuality. Her lack of direction. Her sideline in sex work.
Seligman experiments with serious inter-generational subjects casually but with enough sensitivity to make the real issues – extra-marital affair, family pressures, sexual fluidity, employment, expectations, insecurities – not feel dismissed or disrespected. She fills her audience’s plate with a lot of subjects focused around gender, feminism, and transitioning to an adult world involving society, friends, and family, set all in one day somewhere in New York at a Shiva.
You can watch this movie on MUBI.