Shiva Baby

Shiva Baby ★★★★½

Shiva Baby turns a Jewish funeral into an anxiety attack for Danielle, a young gender studies major who has to deal with a slew of nosey acquaintances while avoiding her ex and married sugar daddy. Danielle suffocates under the pressure of having to make a good impression, for both her and her parents’ sake, and struggles with the chaos around and within her. Conversations turn into a whirlwind of noise, and questions about her career prospects and dead-end job target her like daggers. This isn’t a tragic family gathering anymore; it’s a continuous obstacle course where the finish line means momentary escape and dealing with the aftermath of the crash.

Throughout, Danielle wanders around trying to find her place. She tries to eat or to make small talk with an inoffensive old relative or to carry a trey of food, but all it does is lead her back to what she’s been avoiding. Tensions rise and rise until they literally break and Danielle is left to pick up the pieces. While the tension may not be completely gone, she’s found at least a pocket of relief that makes the questions somewhat approachable and reassures her that she has the support she needs to start thinking about their answers.

The film puts you in the shoes of its protagonist in the same way that The Father does, letting real-life and fiction melt into each other and you feel the intensity of every detail. The sound of a text message, the sight of a person or the realization that she’s left her phone somewhere, in plain sight, are monumental to Danielle and they overwhelm you as well, creating a game of waiting for disaster to strike after every near-miss.

Involving her ex, sugar daddy and everyone’s families, Danielle’s situation is absurd, and Shiva Baby isn’t afraid to exploit that comedic undertone. The balance achieved is remarkable in that you can chuckle at how ridiculous it all is, but also feel Danielle’s very intense existential dread. If you’ve ever had to explain your obscure major and your career prospects to concerned relatives or acquaintances, you know what Danielle is subjected to, and you pray you never have to do it while your complicated love life is watching you from across the room.

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