Life is complicated.
That may seem like the understatement of the year, but hey, when it’s true, it’s true. And we don’t exactly live in a world that embraces us for all the flaws and struggles we have. So we create alternative narratives. We dance around questions like job and relationship status (whether or not they are all appropriate to be asked in the first place is another conversation). We dodge the questioning looks and find a distraction to keep ourselves from having to remember which story goes with which person. We plan escape routes – both mentally and physically – for a variety of situations. And it’s exhausting.
For Danielle (Rachel Sennot) in Shiva Baby, this dance finally gets the best of her during the post-funeral shiva, where she is surrounded and interrogated by nosey distant relatives, and pushed into action by her determined mother Debbie (Polly Draper) and flighty father Joel (Fred Melamed). The stories of her life swirl around: she’s a babysitter working to pay the bills (not so, as she is getting paid for sex). She’s studying for finals (she’s not, as her college status is questionable), she’s preparing for multiple job interviews (she’s not, as she has little idea about her future).
So when ex-love Maya (Molly Gordon, whom I love) walks in, followed by the very (unbeknownst to her) married man she was just with that morning, Max (Danny Deferrari), Danielle is forced to keep up a charade that has been eating away her sense of self and value. The endlessly crying baby that is brought by Max’s wife Kim (Dianna Agron) rings in her ears, pushing her even further into a breakdown.
It is a somewhat overwhelming film that takes place in the span of this one event, with its nonstop conversation and tense atmosphere. The constant angst and raised voices wore at me, but perhaps that was the point. For a film that explores the internal and external battles we face in our families, our jobs, our sexuality, and our past and present relationships, it now makes sense that I felt just as worked up as Danielle. Even the relief we see on her face at the very end was something I shared.
If you’re looking for a film that takes an authentic look into the many ways we strive to meet everyone’s expectations, even to the point of faking it, then Shiva Baby will do just that.
Shiva Baby is available Friday, April 2nd on VOD and Virtual Cinema across Canada.