2020 Milwaukee Film Festival: “SHIVA BABY”
One of the highlights of every Milwaukee Film Festival is the special screening for Milwaukee Film members. It’s nice to see that some things are still somewhat normal as the choice of SHIVA BABY turned out to be as assured a directorial debut as I’ve seen in some time.
SHIVA BABY focuses around a Shiva sitting, for a person she doesn’t really know, where everything threatens to collapse on Danielle (Rachel Sennott) who’s going through a crisis of confidence just on the verge of graduation from college with a degree, in the self directed field of Gender / Business, that she suspects is quite worthless, questions about her bisexuality and identity, and a side business as a Sugar Baby. None of which she wants revealed. Especially in front of friends and family.
Which will prove especially hard. As her ex-lover Maya (Molly Gordon) is also present, and seems to have her future totally figured out. And Maya is totally okay with calling out Danielle. Oh, and also present is her sugar daddy, Max (Danny Deferrari). Not to mention, Max’s beautiful, blonde, successful wife Kim (Dianna Agron) and their baby. Oh, and it seems that every woman at the Shiva thinks that Danielle is anorexic. Or has advice for Danielle’s love life or career.
SHIVA BABY is 77 minutes of a high wire act of plate spinning. The stakes may seem low, but for Danielle they seem to be the end of the world. And the filmmaking backs up that tension from the claustrophobia of the setting, extreme closeups like something out of ROSEMARY’S BABY, and strings on the soundtrack that sound like they could be out of a horror film, there’s no escape for Danielle. It’s nerve wracking as each lie or obfuscation from Danielle, gets threatened by the next person that walks into the room that has a different piece of information. At least so Danielle thinks.
It’s also extremely funny. And Jewish, which often goes hand in hand. Each supporting cast member is terrifically cast, bonus points for Polly Draper and Fred Melamed as Danielle’s parents, and the film has a brisk pace. The film is 77 minutes and every minute is spent ratcheting up or relieving tension.
Rachel Sennott, in particular, is a future star. Much of the film focuses on her face and how she silently reacts to new events, conversations overheard, and her own overheating internal fears. She’s the perfect vehicle for Emma Seligman’s story.
Clearly, SHIVA BABY is a film that displays all the earmarks of a remarkable new voice in Emma Seligman. It’s a remarkably impressive debut. It’s a tale told with the authenticity of personal experience, but with the craft of someone who’s been immersed in film for a long time. Every choice feels right and the perspective of an insecure young woman is something that we do not get as often as we should. Couple that with the fact that the film never forgets to be entertaining, and we have a bright new director to look forward to in Emma Seligman.
SHIVA BABY is a small, but bold feature that Milwaukee Film was lucky to get. Kudos to everyone involved.
SHIVA BABY had it’s one and only day of screening yesterday, but should be more widely available soon. There are many more films streaming throughout the 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival which runs from October 15 to 29, 2020. Tickets to individual films and passes to the festival as a whole can be purchased via Milwaukee Film.