Shiva Baby: Ambiguously Anxious Among the Noodges.

Shiva Baby: Ambiguously Anxious Among the Noodges.

. 2 min read

Shiva Baby: Ambiguously Anxious Among the Noodges. When you’re trapped at a shiva between your sugar daddy and your high school ex-girlfriend, what’s a girl to do? In Emma Seligman’s film Shiva Baby the main character Danielle, an unmoored NYU senior, veers between powerlessness one minute and taking control the next, like a hockey puck spinning in and out of a goal. Just when her Jewish Mother thinks she's in line Danielle darts upstairs with a bagel to proffer her transactional sex partner a freebie blow job.

Shiva Baby came on my radar when a friend who is a member of the screening committee for a prestigious Jewish film festival told me about the heated debate surrounding its eventual selection. “Nobody wants to see a Jewish girl sugaring,” said one committee member. “But it’s happening,” argued my friend. Not only that, it's really smartly written, directed and acted. Days later I mentioned the film to another friend over coffee and he responded, “Oh if you have a daughter at NYU, you know about this,” he said almost offhandedly.

In the opening scene you see a distracted Danielle having sex with her sugar daddy. She’s detached and in control; he’s cloying. But all that reverses at the shiva. Why? Because his gorgeous wife and child have arrived and with them a dramatic shift in leverage. Though we stopped believing she had her shit together early on when she notices her ex-girlfriend, it’s the sugard daddy power shift that makes Danielle’s predicament clear. It also raises the bigger question of whether the young women engaged in the sugar trade actually have the power they think they have. The film suggests it is not so clear.

The film reminded me of a rough cross between Kissing Jessica Stein and Uncut Gems. It is a focused, funny and anxious look at a young woman adrift among the noodges. You’ll need to grab a glass of wine and open a window before watching. It is only 77 minutes, but the claustrophobia is so effective that we feel as trapped as Danielle.

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