Rare is the comedy that seems to make time stand still. But for 77 cringeworthy and hilarious minutes, that’s what writer-director Emma Seligman pulls off with “Shiva Baby.”
It’s about a college coed’s afternoon of living Hell — the post-funeral meal of a family friend. Filmed like a nightmare with one-liners and edited like a thriller with promiscuity the “crime” worth covering up, “Shiva” makes everybody a tummler and mourning an utter afterthought.
This chatty, bitchy and stereotype-embracing Seudat Havra’ah is a minefield for poor, overwhelmed Danielle, played by Rachel Sennott in a break-out turn.
Because Danielle is a “sugar baby,” a semi-pro prostitute who turns tricks for cash. Because she’s just come from her latest afternoon assignation. Because her unknowing parents, played to interrogating, pushy and profane perfection by Polly Draper and Fred Melamed, never let up.
“Just try to BEHAVE yourself today!”
Because Danielle has “history” with Maya (Molly Gordon). Because Danielle needs “sound bite” talking points to explain away what she’s done with her education (some sort of unmarketable gender studies self-designed degree).
And because what her parents don’t know could kill them dead. Danielle’s last “client” (Danny Deferrari) also happens to show up. With his WIFE (Dianna Agron).
Seligman fills a Flatbush house with kvetching, back-biting and always QUESTIONING “types” and the air with insults, backhanded compliments and wisecracks. And she has Sennott maintain the same appalled, overwhelmed stare throughout.
A vacation photo? “Oh, you guys went to the Holocaust Museum! You look so…happy.“
She piles up food on her plate, and then empties it guiltily. Everything this girl does she does “guiltily.”
“She had a kind of ‘extended awkward phase,‘” her dad overshares. Mom will let no compliment go uncorrected.
I’ll bet Danielle’s “swatting boys away, left and right,” one mourner gushes.
“I wish she would swat them a little HARDER,” Mom complains.
And one by one, gauche grownups by the score — unfiltered and foul-mouthed — button-hole Danielle and grill her. Every answer leads to five more questions.
Seligman stuffs the script with a “Seinfeld/Goldbergs” season’s worth of shtick. Danielle has many mishaps as she dodges the parade of side-eyes she draws from all corners. But after a while she gives up any effort at politesse and joins in the general vulgarity.
This is a funeral? Is there a cover charge?
Melamed, of “Wanda Vision” and “In a World,” has perfected this tactless blowhard thing that never fails to crack me up. “thirtysomething” alumna Draper grabs her best comic role in ages and tears into it like she’s breaking a fast, “like Gwyneth Paltrow on FOOD stamps!”
And Sennott, poker-faced through this riff on “my generation’s unconventional” view of sex, love, dating and “side hustles,” generates everything from pity to contempt in playing an impulsive, amoral, definitely “confused” and possibly vindictive young woman.
Because nobody puts “Shiva Baby” in a corner.
MPA Rating: unrated, sex, profanity
Cast: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Danny Deferrari, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed and Dianna Agron
Credits: Scripted and directed by Emma Seligman. A Utopia release.
Running time: 1:17