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: Normal People

At first glance, Sally Rooney’s novel, “Normal People”, is extremely simple. It tells the story of two high school students, Connell and Marianne, and their unusual and potent attraction to one another. The book follows the two through the end of their college careers, and the end of their relationship (which still deserves an ellipse and the phrase “for now” stuck on the end of it). The novel, recently turned into a limited series through the streaming platform Hulu, premiered late last month in its entirety. What the television series does so well is it reveals with great dexterity and skill the underlying tension and complexity of Marianne and Connell’s relationship.

Daisy Edgar Jones and Paul Mescal, the main actors playing Marianne and Connell, are fairly new faces to the screen. The series is full of a myriad of close-up shots of the two actors, and several intimate, long, and artfully-shot sex scenes. The two actors’ chemistry on-screen is undeniable, and their performances ground the series in genuine human connection. The ensemble of actors that join them on screen deserves much praise as well; Aislin McGuckin, the actress playing Marianne’s mother, Denise, and Fionn O’Shea, playing one of Marianne’s boyfriends, Jamie, in particular, come to mind for their performances.

One worry I often have when watching screen adaptations of books is not even so much the accuracy of the script, compared to the events in the book, but rather if the on-screen version will be able to capture the same magic and essence of the novel it is adapted from. I think it is telling that Sally Rooney had a hand in writing all twelve episodes; that is to say, it shows. The series has the same careful, diligent, and gentle approach that the novel is so renowned for.

The charm of “Normal People” lies in the title itself. It is a simple story, about two imperfect people who always manage to find their way back to one another. It is shaded by the belief in “soulmates”, and elevates two ordinary characters to an extraordinary love. “Normal People” represents something the majority of the population wants; true, unconditional love. The series is an effective adaptation because it understands the heart of the story, and doesn’t try too hard to extrapolate unneeded details from the source material. It is a simple show; not particularly flashy or thrilling, but it is refreshing to me that it does not have to be. The simplest shots are oftentimes the most captivating. Rooney and the rest of the creative team train the audience early on to find the magic in the details, whether it be the slight raise of Marianne’s eyebrow or the way Connell wrings his hands and laughs when faced with a serious question. “Normal People” has done an exceptional job of parring down the series to exactly what is needed and nothing more.

In a world of endless streaming options, whether it be movies, podcasts, or television series, it can be overwhelming to make a choice of what to view or listen to. I would highly encourage those that are looking for something true, genuine, and delicate to consider taking the time to watch “Normal People” in its entirety. It does more than justice to the beloved novel; it illuminates it.

PREVIEW: Normal People

Based on Sally Rooney’s award-winning novel, “Normal People” is set to premiere as a limited television series April 29th on Hulu. “Normal People” follows Connell and Marianne’s intrinsic attraction towards each other through their high school and college careers. Rooney’s novel is fueled by passion, trauma, and the most unusual power struggle between the will-they-won’t-they couple. Daisy Edgar Jones plays the Marianne to Paul Mescal’s Connell. The entire series, comprised of twelve episodes, will be available to watch on Hulu Wednesday, April 29th.