Shiva Baby [TIFF20 Review]

Going into this, I was not expecting it to be one of the most chaotic and stressful films to have come my way this year. The sheer messiness of this film was almost too much at times, and I say this as someone who absolutely loved every second of it. 

For Emma Seligman’s (Shiva Baby, Void) feature directorial debut, we follow Danielle; a young student who runs into her sugar daddy at a Jewish funeral service with her parents. The chaos that radiates from that short description alone is nothing compared to the events thrown our way throughout the experience.

The character of Danielle is also so damn relatable. As someone who’s also in their early twenties; going to family events or catching up with people after long periods apart, you’re accustomed to the same questions asked every time. What are you studying? How’s school? Are you seeing anyone? The basic surface level questions. So of course you have your act down and answers straight for those first encounters. So what I loved about this film is that it threw us into an environment we’ve all been through and amplified it in a realistic way. 

Growing up in this generation, sex work has become much more destigmatized and open minded. The truth is many of us know someone who’s at least attempted to become a sugar baby at one point or another; or are themselves. This was such a good representation of what it means to be a part of this field of work. There’s a scene late in the film where Danielle explains to someone what it means to her and why she has a sugar daddy. For her she contains power in their relationship. She feels in control and no shame in accepting money safely from a man who just wants sex and company. In the end it benefits her and she feels good about it. Although in the film’s situation it comes with some flaws that I won’t spoil for anyone. 

Portraying Danielle is Rachel Sennott (Shiva Baby). Her performance carries this film so well, every reaction shot is so realistic, hilarious and well timed. I’ve personally never heard of this actress prior to viewing this film but I could see this being a huge break out role for her. 

As much as I enjoyed the lead, it was once again Molly Gordon (Booksmart, Good Boys), acting opposite Sennott as her romantic interest, who stole the show for me. Since seeing her in Booksmart, she’s been an actress I’ve actively watched out for who delivers every single time. Her comedic timing and line deliveries are so good that you listen and hear every word that comes out. She’s quickly rising to the top of a lot of favourites list, and you can’t help but want more screen time with her in every film she’s a part of. If you couldn’t tell already I’m definitely a huge fan and I know many will join in on that very soon. 

Shiva Baby is a tense, hilarious and stressful comedy with a score that makes you feel as if you’re watching a horror film. The script is tight and flows quickly which adds to the fact that it will definitely be worth the hour and twenty minutes you invest into it. If you don’t get to catch this at TIFF this year then definitely look for it at Inside Out next month. You absolutely will not regret watching this movie.