‘Shiva Baby’ tackles Jewish mourning, comedy and female empowerment

SHIVA BABY: Rachel Sennott in "Shiva Baby." Photo courtesy of TIFF/Tribune News Service

The new film “Shiva Baby” combines the traditional, weeklong Jewish mourning period with a meshugenah love rectangle and overbearing family members.

Hilarious and anxiety-inducing, the movie, written and directed by Emma Seligman is now out in select theaters and on demand, during Passover.

“It’s like a sort of Jewish wake that lasts a week and for me, and for Reform Jews and specifically Ashkenazi Reform, it just feels like any other family event,” Seligman told the Daily News.

“That feeling of community is so helpful when you’re mourning,” said the Canadian-born filmmaker, 25. “But for me, the talking, the conversation topics, the vibe, almost feels the exact same as any other sort of family get-together.”

The film stars Rachel Sennott, who is not Jewish, as college senior Danielle. She goes from part-time sugar baby to full-time worrier when she finds herself observing shiva alongside not just her ex-girlfriend (Molly Gordon) and meddling mother and family friends, but her sugar daddy, the wife she didn’t know he had (Dianna Agron), and their crying young daughter.

Seligman developed the film from her college thesis short at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“I felt like I understood Jewish characters well and there were a lot of sugar babies and also just young girls struggling to have their sexual coming-of-age moments in college,” she explained. “So I just thought it would be something that I could speak organically to.”

Former “Glee” star Agron may look the part of Kim, the shiksa princess she plays in the film, but her background is more like Seligman’s.

“I think that even though I grew up Jewish, people don’t assume that I’m Jewish based on the way that I look,” Agron said, noting that her blonde locks are what throw people off.

“But I think you walk through this world and observe other people and how we interact,” she said.

Sennott, 25, a comedian, said she relates to her character in several ways.

“I am very anxious,” the “Tahara” actress told The News. “So much of my anxiety I feel like is like made up in my head where it’s like versus Danielle: it’s like, you should be having a panic attack.”

Those who grew up in Jewish households will no doubt see themselves in the film, but the cast hopes it gifts laughs as well as a lesson to young women.

“I think the main thing that I kind of always keep coming back to ... [is] the struggle of trying to find self-worth beyond sexual validation. I think when you feel so powerless, sexual power feels so easy and building that power and love within yourself actually is so much harder,” Seligman laughed. “I think that’s a part of growing up.”


Recommended for you