Shiva Baby continues to amaze! If you still haven’t seen it, make sure you do – it will come to HBO Max starting July 7. Below you can read an article Vanity Fair did on the film a couple of days ago.
Vanity Fair | As cinemas struggle to get back on their feet this summer following countless pandemic-related setbacks, we’ve seen well-deserved cheers for mainstream victories at the box office such as A Quiet Place Part II. However, there’s another success story on a smaller scale about a film connecting with audiences in a profound and emotional way, not only defying Covid restrictions in theaters, but the usual difficulty any independent film has in finding a foothold.
That movie is Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby, and its run at the New York University-adjacent Quad Cinemas is a good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth sensation, just like we had in the before times.
The Quad’s Diana Drumm noted that the theater has a “longstanding history of independent cinema, LGBTQ and women-helmed titles,” so she was particularly pleased audiences have been coming to see Shiva Baby “in droves.” She pointed out that since the theater’s 2017 renovation, it’s been the longest-running title since Agnès Varda’s Faces Places.
I was lucky enough to be on-hand as a moderator for a post-screening Q&A on Thursday. Yes, it’s another sign that New York is coming back to life when you can see an audience that probably needs to pee, but doesn’t want to race out because the star of the movie is right there.
Rachel Sennott plays the lead role of Danielle, a bisexual soon-to-be-college grad who bumps into her sugar daddy at a Jewish mourning ceremony that typically involves as much noshing and chatting as prayer. Sennott was on hand to celebrate as the film kicked off its 13th week at the downtown theater. (The Los Angeles-based performer is also in town for a number of standup dates that you can learn more about on her Instagram page, which you should follow anyway.) “You’re the Queen of the Quad!” an audience member cried out, which, Sennott later said, was particularly touching, as she used to come to “this cool theater” when she was a student at NYU. It was there, at the drama school, where she first met Seligman, who was in the film department. Sennott was performing in a lot of plays, she said during the Q&A, but had an awakening when she got stuck doing something where she “died in the first two minutes” and spent the rest of each night “just being dead.” She then made an effort to appear in as many student films as possible. Seligman saw her and cast her in a short film that eventually became the feature film. Sennott called it “their baby,” but quickly added, “and I’m the dad.” She joked that Seligman had to deal with all the editing and whatnot while she got to say, “great job!”
The low-budget first feature boasts a string of terrific, established actors, including Fred Melamed, Polly Draper, Dianna Agron, and Jackie Hoffman. The story takes place in just a few hours with all of Danielle’s problems compressing into one eruption of what we members of the Hebraic faith call tsuris.
That translated into days of filming where Sennott had to quickly reorient herself from typical young-person anxiety to full-blown breakdown. The actor and director had something of a private language to describe where Sennott needed to be emotionally, even if it meant she was jumping around a lot. The result, as I witnessed, definitely landed with the core demographic.
“Hi, I’m a queer, Jewish, 20-year-old and this movie is everything,” was the sentiment many young women had when coming up to Sennott after the screening. (You don’t have to be Jewish or queer or young to love this movie, but it doesn’t hurt!)
Watching the exchange between the star and fans who deeply connected with this small film was something I didn’t realize I’d missed during a pandemic year when in-person events were put on hold. Luckily for you, if you can’t make it to New York City, Shiva Baby is available on VOD and will be on HBO Max starting July 7.