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Laramie Movie Scope: Shiva Baby

A very Jewish version of The Graduate

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 20, 2022 – Despite having seen many movies about Jewish people and their customs, I did run across some new customs and words in this movie. It is about a very awkward encounter between Max (played by Max (Danny Deferrari) and his mistress Danielle (Rachel Sennott) at a Shiva event following a funeral of Danielle's relative (which she did not bother to attend).

The movie opens with a sex scene between Danielle, and Max, who is her sugar daddy. Their relationship at first appears to be that of a prostitute and client, but later, it becomes clear that Danielle is more of a mistress, who is unaware that Max is married.

The narrative of the movie is a bit hard to follow, since I was unfamiliar with a lot of terms and customs shown in the film. For instance, I have never heard the term “shiksa princess” before. I knew that Shiva and Kaddish were Jewish terms, but didn't know much about what they meant. Suffice it to say, this movie is a crash course in such things. Another reason the narrative is hard to follow is that the main character, Danielle is a chronic and habitual liar. She issues a constant stream of obfuscations, deflections and false narratives.

Danielle avoids attending the funeral of a relative, but is persuaded by her mother, Debbie (Polly Draper) and father Joel (Fred Melamed of “A Serious Man”) to attend a big Shiva gathering. The Shiva gathering which seems to be a bit like an Irish Wake, with lots of food, drinks and conversation. Danielle has too many alcoholic beverages to drink, and then is shocked to see Max show up.

Things go from bad to worse when Max's shiksa (a somewhat derrogatory term for non-Jewish woman) princess wife Kim (Dianna Agron) and their 18-month-old infant, Rose, also show up at the Shiva gathering. Danielle discovers that her parents know Max and Kim, and everyone fawns over the screaming baby.

Max finds out that Danielle is bi-sexual, when Danielle's ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon) shows up. It is bad enough that Danielle, who is not exactly a successful student, is constantly compared unfavorably to Maya, a law school graduate, but Danielle's parents try to persuade Max and Kim to hire Danielle as their baby sitter. Danielle is also humiliated to find out that the money she gets from Max, as well as the fancy bracelet he gave her earlier that day, both belong to Kim, who is much more successful at business than Max is.

Upset and jealous, Danielle sends Max a steamy topless image of herself while they are still both at the Shiva gathering. She then leaves her unlocked phone lying around to be discovered, with its incriminating images. The phone is discovered by a couple of people at the event that cause Danielle even more embarrassment. She also shares a passionate kiss with Maya in the alley.

Since Danielle lies to everyone, it is hard to have much sympathy for her plight. She seems to be aimless, blundering from one relationship to the next with no idea what she wants for her own future. Obviously, Max informs Danielle that he is ending his relationship with her. Maya is still interested in Danielle, despite some serious current and past problems between them.

Danielle's tumultuous bad day at the Shiva gathering seems to be a kind of female, Jewish version of the day Ben Braddock's affair with Mrs. Robinson is made public in “The Graduate” (1967). Danielle and Braddock both share that kind of rudderless, jobless, existence fostered by the extended adolescence of college life. Of the two movies, “Shiva Baby” is far more casual and farcical, while being less dramatic, romantic and funny.

I could not really get into this movie, in part, because I really could not identify with any of the characters. Danielle is really the only character in the movie that is developed to any depth below the surface, and she exists mainly to be the object of ridicule and the butt of jokes. She is literally and figuratively wounded. Her plight is more sad than funny, even though she brings all this upon herself. This movie rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2022 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]