starring Rachel Sennott, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed, Dianna Agron
written and directed by Emma Seligman
by Angelo Muredda Hell is other people waiting in line outside the bathroom at a function where you hate everyone in Emma Seligman's cringe comedy debut Shiva Baby, which impressively sustains something of the fever pitch of the Satanic ritual in the Castevets' apartment from Rosemary's Baby for most of its 77-minute runtime. More proof of concept for future films than a proper knockout, Shiva Baby is at least a nimble showcase for star Rachel Sennott, reprising her role as Danielle, the sullen and pleasantly inscrutable protagonist from Seligman's earlier short of the same name.
Danielle is a college student majoring in a boutique liberal-arts programme that her well-to-do moneyed parents can hardly remember the name of--"the business of gender," guesses her dad, played by Fred Melamed, here having a great time channelling someone who is always irritatingly helpful. Though Danielle claims her spending money comes from babysitting, she's moonlighting as a sex worker with a clientele of one, thirty-something mooch Max (Danny Deferrari), who makes the mistake of showing up at the same shiva at which the entire film is set with his gentile wife (Dianna Agron) and aggressively blonde child, who always seems to be exploding into a rage whenever Danielle's in earshot.
Between Danielle's upper-middle-class ennui about the future, her complicated romantic dalliances with both Max and ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon), and the numerous misadventures in cramped quarters with unfriendly family friends, frequently heard muttering snide remarks just out of frame, Shiva Baby superficially resembles Jewish comedienne-led millennial family comedies such as "Girls" and "Transparent". And by the protracted finale, which doesn't end up being any funnier for openly acknowledging its protractedness, you wonder if the whole thing needed to be exploded to feature-length. But Shiva Baby has a manic, chaotically overstuffed mise en scène and a prickliness (thanks in part to Sennott's unique affect--she's at once a born hustler and relentlessly downbeat) that set it apart in spite of its familiarity. Programmes: Discovery, TIFF Next Wave