REVIEW: Shiva Baby

A college student, her sugar daddy, her sugar daddy’s wife, their screaming baby, and her ex-girlfriend walk into a shiva. This is Shiva Baby, Emma Seligman’s directorial debut. The film’s anxiety-inducing nature has led some critics to liken it to Uncut Gems, but the two films are completely different. Uncut Gems is sensory overload from an extreme scenario with players that are shady and purposefully unlikable, whereas Shiva Baby’s stress stems from how imperfect and therefore relatable its characters are. There is something very familiar about parents trying to be helpful but only succeeding at embarrassing you, extremely judgmental family friends, being forced to talk to the last person you want to talk to, and having to stay friendly and polite the entire time. It’s not difficult to understand the kind of stress Seligman’s protagonist, Danielle, is under.

Shiva Baby’s runtime clocks in at a mere 1 hour and 17 minutes, and this could be a disadvantage for Seligman. However, instead of her characters being underdeveloped and the plot rushed, Seligman simply elects not to waste any time. This is where the relatable aspect of the film comes into play again; everything that occurs is believable and realistic, so Seligman does not have to dedicate very much of her film to extensive exposition. The setting of the film also contributes to this aspect; all scenes but the first take place in one location, therefore containing the film and grounding it in its specific reality. All possible events are limited to interactions between the characters attending the shiva. Here, Seligman avoids the trap of her film becoming repetitive. Rather than beating a running joke to death, she inserts backhanded comments from shiva attendees about Danielle’s appearance right after an interaction has gone poorly, turning what’s already pretty bad into something a little worse. And by simply having Danielle plan to leave the shiva with her parents, Seligman has trapped Danielle at the event where she will only become more and more overwhelmed.

Finally, there’s the character of Danielle herself. She’s just a regular college student who’s about to graduate, and she’s quite terrified for the future. Her parents and family friends don’t particularly understand how she designed her own major and what she’s planning on doing with it, and it doesn’t help that her ex is going to law school and that her sugar daddy’s wife owns three businesses. The one thing Danielle really has any control over is her sugaring, and when she realizes she’s competing with the wife, it’s only natural she is jealous and snarky towards her. And yet, despite Danielle’s messiness, you can sympathize with her and also just hope she can leave the shiva so you can breathe again.

Overall, Shiva Baby is well-written, well-acted, and funny. And due to its claustrophobic and experiential fashion, you can’t wait for it to be over, but only because you’ve become so invested in it.

Shiva Baby is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.

PREVIEW: Shiva Baby

Shiva Baby is director Emma Seligman’s directorial debut starring Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, and Dianna Agron. The comedy film follows a young Jewish woman who attends a shiva with her parents, her ex-girlfriend, and her sugar daddy. The film has been praised for its Jewish and bisexual representation, and for its ability to be accessible to all audiences at the same time.

One of the most enticing testimonials I’ve heard is that the film is incredibly stressful to watch, and that it features a unique horror-like score that heightens this experience. I know I am going to be overwhelmed, but I am still looking forward to seeing how the film will navigate an anxiety-inducing comedic tone in a very modern setting. Shiva Baby originated as a short film that was part of Seligman’s thesis project, and I am interested in how it will translate into a full-length film.

Shiva Baby is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.

REVIEW: Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman is perhaps one of the more divisive films of this awards season. Some audiences love the ending of the film, whereas others claim it ruins the entire film. I initially stood somewhere in the middle, but the more I think about it, the more I agree with the latter perspective. And when I think about it even more, I realize that the film as a whole might not be as effective as it hopes to be. The film addresses rape culture, and how the skepticism and victim shaming that come along with it affect not only the victim but also the victim’s loved ones. The film has been marketed as a revenge thriller, but it fails to deliver any real, satisfying sense of justice to its protagonist.

The lead character, Cassie, played by Carey Mulligan, is a young woman who is haunted by a traumatic event that led her to drop out of med school. Formerly at the top of her class, she now works at a coffee shop and frequents bars and nightclubs where she can be found completely wasted, struggling to sit up and form coherent sentences. Each time this happens, without fail, a man offers to take care of her and her home, but they always end up at his apartment where he tries to take advantage of her intoxicated state. However, each time, she reveals she is stone-cold sober and confronts the man about his behavior. Then, once she gets the guy to kind of admit what he did was wrong, she leaves. And this whole plan doesn’t even work. One of the first guys that Cassie confronts is named Jerry. Later in the film, she is scooped up by a man in a fedora, who says, “You’re that girl Jerry was talking about!” when he finds out she is sober. Let’s break that down: Cassie forces Jerry to see the error of his ways, who tells his friend in the fedora about his experience, and the friend in the fedora goes on to do exactly what put Jerry in his situation and fully believes he can get away with it.

Cassie does genuinely make some people feel really bad, and she does so them by employing pretty twisted methods. And then there’s the highly polarizing conclusion to the film. I don’t want to spoil the film, but I will say that the writer/producer/director, Emerald Fennell, described the ending as “realistic.” But this “realism” is unsatisfying as the main instigator of Cassie’s grief may see some sort of consequences, but he never directly admits and recognizes his wrongdoing. As an audience member, I’m unsure what to take away as the message of the film, nor can I find a particularly encouraging message. I don’t believe that Cassie saw any justice or received any closure for her past, and the “realistic” tone to the film was pretty disheartening.


Promising Young Woman is available to rent on Prime Video, Apple TV, VUDU, Google Play, and Fandango Now.

PREVIEW: Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman stars Carey Mulligan as a … promising young woman whose future was derailed by a mysterious event. The film is presented as a black comedy thriller, and it is writer/producer/director Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut.

Critics have praised Mulligan’s performance, and she is said to be one of the frontrunners for a Best Actress Oscar nomination and possibly win. The film overall has received positive reviews, however the ending of the film seems to be very divisive, with some saying it ruins the entire movie.

I’m excited to see this film for myself as Golden Globe and Oscar nominations are approaching!

Promising Young Woman is now available to rent.

REVIEW: Fall Film Series: Contemporary Cinema from the Islamic World (Wadjda)

My girlfriend and I have this joke between us, where I’ve compiled my top 25 favorite movies of all time, but actually the list is ever-growing and has long since left behind a number anywhere close to 25. This is not to say I am so easily influenced by any old sappy rom-com, but instead is only evidence of the seriousness of my Netflix addiction.

In any case, I consider all of my movie-watching experience enough to transform me into a reliable source for a good movie recommendation, and thus a solid judge of a film’s emotional quality.

In short, Wadjda was beautiful. The title character can only be described as spunky, with her Converse high-tops and the broadness of her grin, the quickness of her smart mouth and her mind for entreprenuership. I find that I no longer want to be like others when I grow up; rather, Wadjda is who I wish I was as a child. If I had had half that moxy at her age, who knows where I would be now.

The film goes on to document the girl’s dedication to saving up for a bicycle, a toy that she is repeatedly told is not for girls, as it is believed to harm the reproductive system, and is generally considered umseemly. Nevertheless, she schemes and studies her way to success, learning to recite the Quran for a school competition (with a cash prize, of course). All the while, subplots form, showcasing the female life in the midst of a male-dominated society: her mother’s fears of her husband leaving to take another wife; the principal’s rumored interactions with a non-relative man; the rule-breaking, magazine-reading girls at school.

If you’re a devout Wes Anderson fan, you’ll appreciate the monochrome quality of the movie–the pale yellow-cream is omnipresent, from the sand and sky to homes and buildings. This calmness of hue contrasted nicely with the small chaoses building in the film’s plot, and only made Wadjda stand out more starkly, racing her friend Abdullah down the dusty street or walking home from school. In a part of the world that restricts many of womens’ freedoms, the brashness of this little girl is striking.

A lot went into Wadjda‘s creation. In Saudi Arabia, women cannot be seen in public interacting with men outside the family, so the director Haifaa al-Mansour had to give directions to her male crew via walkie-talkie from the back of a van. She had to get govermental approval before she could film, and though she recieved funding from a Saudi company, much of her funding was from a German source. Not only was it the first feature-length Saudi film to be directed by a woman, it was the first to be shot entirely within the country, in which the first cinema opened just this past April following a decades-long ban.

This truly is a historic film. If you haven’t seen it yet, I urge you to do so! You will feel changed.