, Shiva Baby, review: a farcical Jewish blend of sugar-daddies and cream-cheese, The Nzuchi Times

Shiva Baby, review: a farcical Jewish blend of sugar-daddies and cream-cheese

, Shiva Baby, review: a farcical Jewish blend of sugar-daddies and cream-cheese, The Nzuchi Times
  • Dir: Emma Seligman. Starring: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed, Danny Deferrari, Dianna Agron. 15 cert, 78 mins

Could Rachel Sennott be to the bagel what Lauren Bacall was to the cigarette? I could be wrong, but I can’t recall having ever seen anyone load so much subtext into the consumption of smoked salmon and cream cheese. The 25-year-old American actress and comedian is the star of Emma Seligman’s uproariously uneasy farce, which unfolds in something close to real time at a shiva, or Jewish mourning ceremony, in a warren-like house somewhere in the New York suburbs.

Sennott’s Danielle is an aimless young graduate whose pursed lips and stern eyebrows make her face a permanent puff of discontentment. As the film begins, it would be a stretch to describe her as demolished by grief: in fact, when she and her family arrive, she’s not entirely sure who the deceased even was. “Wait! Mom! Who died?” she hisses at her mother, played by Polly Draper, as they walk up the path.

Nevertheless, on the “emotional turmoil” front, the event delivers. Instead of attending the funeral beforehand, Danielle goes to meet with a sugar-daddy, Danny Deferrari’s Max, for a financially-compensated tryst – and when she gets to the shiva, she is horrified to find her older client among the mourners. Danielle not only discovers that Max was a one-time employee of her father (a terrific, toe-curlingly avuncular Fred Melamed), but that he is also married, and his wife Kim, a glamorous and successful gentile (Dianna Agron, never sleeker) is there too, with their 18-month-old daughter. 

, Shiva Baby, review: a farcical Jewish blend of sugar-daddies and cream-cheese, The Nzuchi Times

As if this wasn’t sufficiently soul-crushing, Danielle also finds herself unexpectedly reunited with Maya (Molly Gordon), a high-achieving childhood friend with whom she once shared a same-sex dalliance that became a minor family scandal. Whenever the two exchange so much as a word, a concerned or disapproving glance unerringly seeks them out in the crowd, like a tiny homing missile. For Danielle, these strikes are just part of the overall gossipy siege, as her love-life, employment prospects and figure are pinched and prodded by a throng of older female relatives.

Sometimes she seeks refuge at the buffet, which is mountainously stocked with lox and schmear, rugelach, quivering bowls of egg salad, and other traditional foodstuffs. But should she actually eat any of it? Having slimmed down since her teens, Danielle’s weight loss is the subject of a number of approving comments, though according to her own mother, she looks “like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps – and not in a good way.”

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