Shiva Baby is a tragedy-induced funny movie about a confused teenager in the midst of her (extended) family. The storyline is as follows: A sugar baby, Danielle, runs into her sugar daddy, Max, and her ex-girlfriend/lover, Maya, while sitting shiva (a mourning period in Jewish tradition).
This is Emma Seligman’s (aged 24 at the time of shooting) first movie. But this looks as good as it gets. The film is shot through sitting shiva, holding your attention—keeping you laughing, feeling pity, and even, at times, wondering—all through.
Danielle, the lead protagonist, is already late for the Shiva event. And there begins a series of awkward encounters. There is lots of gossip—a family tradition that doesn’t cease to exist, with lots of noisy grannies and aunties teasing and bitching about one another.
There is food. Then there is Danielle. She is a lean, good-looking girl, confused about her career, feminism, and life choices—just like many of us. And then, there is an intense family drama.
The sugar daddy, who Danielle hooks up at the movie’s start, is also present at sitting shiva. There is more. He knows her parents. He has married. His wife is pretty hot. He has a (perpetually crying) kid—and he and his wife are planning another. As the story proceeds, Danielle learns more about her sugar daddy.
What may seem a perfect family on the outside, the sugar daddy is hooking up with Danielle. Then, there are funny eating encounters. And then there are lots of relatives, each asking her why she is not eating enough—and starving herself to death. And then there is lots of coffee spilt all over Danielle’s clothes.
Then, more awkward encounters. Danielle sends nudes to her sugar daddy at a sitting Shiva event while he is with his perfect wife. Then, seducing him all around, sitting Shiva. Then, there are also lots of disappointments. And then, almost at the end of the movie, there is a steamy kiss between Danielle and her ex-girlfriend/lover to make up for those disappointments.
Amidst all this, there is a tinge of dark humour. “Oh wow, you guys are at the holocaust Museum”, and then, soon after, there is: “You look so happy”. In another instance, an old lady says, “Whatever they call it today, Israel, Palestine…” among others.
Danielle’s aimless actions often stem from a drive to fix her life. Pay her bills. Despite how funny it feels for the audience, it is a tense roller-coaster journey for the lead protagonist.
Reading more about its director, I learned that during Seligman’s time at NYU, the college fees and living costs in New York were so high that people could not sustain their lives without sugaring.
Seligman admits that many of her classmates would meet older men who owned SoHo apartments. Seeking, formerly Seeking Arrangements (the Elite Sugar Daddy Dating site), notes: “Seeking helps members choose relationships that uniquely align with their personal passions and dreams”.
It claims to be the “best site for luxury dating”. New York University still has the highest number of signups on Seeking. Kind of weird!
But this also tells us more about how expensive university fees and living costs in the US are. It also gives a sense of what people do to get through the universities.
Besides this trivia, Shiva Baby is a fun movie to watch.
This website and the newsletter (fuzzy notes) have been a labour of love. While they are free to access (and will continue to be free), they are not free to create. I spend significant time researching, writing, and proofing every article I publish here, apart from all the logistical aspects of buying and managing the domain and hosting plans. Each article is written meticulously to help fellow readers (such as yourself) get the best knowledge, which is also witty and articulate in this outlook. You may reach out to me at [email protected] (and tell me what you liked about the essay you may have just read or if you want me to write on anything you wish to read). If you have benefitted from reading articles on my website and the newsletter, consider buying me a coffee (as a token of love and appreciation ♥). If you cannot do so now, it’s okay! (understandably, each of us has our problems to deal with every day.) You can still do something else: share the article with someone who may like it.