Episode 105: Saint Maud / Shiva Baby

“I wasn’t particularly thinking about the likes of Carrie or The Exorcist during writing or shooting, but I can see in hindsight how people have drawn those parallels. Maybe I did it subconsciously without realising.”

Rose Glass

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This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: Hope & The Killing of Two Lovers and the Feature Films: Saint Maud and Shiva Baby.

Anna Harrison’s Review of Shiva Baby.

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Shiva Baby

Written by Anna Harrison

75/100

“One word: plastics.” 

Except, in writer/director Emma Seligman’s feature debut Shiva Baby, what was one word to Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate has become several to college senior Danielle (Rachel Sennott): law school, grad school, media, actress, entrepreneur, clerk. A whole host of options, many of them infused with that infuriatingly vague business lingo—what does a clerk even do, anyways—present themselves to Danielle, offered up by well-meaning friends and family members who cannot understand her indecision and paralysis. She’s created her own major at Columbia University focusing on women’s and gender studies, a fancy and erudite degree that lacks the assembly line nature of say, a business degree. That’s all well and good until faced with the issue of becoming financially independent when you have practically nothing in the “real world” to put on your resume. (No, in case you were asking, I, a senior in film studies at a prestigious university known for its business and pre-med students, did not relate to this.)

Faced with these choices and the looming prospect of actual adulthood, Dani has seized on something she can control: her sexuality. Dani has become a sugar baby, faking orgasms to Max (Danny Deferrari) in exchange for money and nice jewelry. Things seem to be going well enough until Dani’s parents, Debbie and Joel (Polly Draper and Fred Melamed, both great), drag her along to a shiva gathering, a Jewish mourning event. Dani’s ex, Maya (Maya Gordon), appears there, to Dani’s shock and dismay (aside from a few jokes about experimenting, barely anything is made out of Dani’s bisexuality; it simply exists), and then the real kicker comes: Max arrives, accompanied by his flawless wife Kim (Dianna Agron) and their baby. 

As her parents shuffle her around and try to pawn Dani off on someone for an internship or job she doesn’t want, Dani’s eyes keep getting drawn to Maya and to Kim, whom she didn’t know existed until today. Everyone keeps bombarding her with questions, commenting that she seems too thin—“You look like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps”—and Dani, feeling more and more overwhelmed, quickly spirals. Stuck in the same location, confronted by overbearing relatives, crying babies, and hounded by Ariel Marx’s horror-like score, the claustrophobia sets in.

Even with the mounting sense of dread, Shiva Baby remains sharply funny and relatable, and Rachel Sennott’s bitter and witty performance, accompanied by the accomplished supporting cast, helps elevate the film. However, though the film is only just over an hour long, it feels stretched in some places—understandably, since it began its life as a short film. Still, Shiva Baby is an alternatingly funny, awkward, and heartwarming film, and promises excellence from Emma Seligman.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Sundance 2021 Interview: Frank Barrera Cinematographer of ‘Together Together’

Interview by Anna Harrison

SYNOPSIS: When young loner Anna is hired as the gestational surrogate for Matt, a single man in his 40s who wants a child, the two strangers come to realize this unexpected relationship will quickly challenge their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love.

Frank Barrera’s Website: https://www.frankbarrera.com/

Together Together played during the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

You can read Maria’s review of Together Together and you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website.

Sundance 2021 Review: Together Together

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

60/100 

Nikole Beckwith’s Together Together is what I’d call a typical Sundance film. It’s quirky but doesn’t overdo it. We are quickly told the story of Matt and his surrogate Anna. While I admit it is nice to see a surrogacy journey I could not see a lot of myself in the film and had a hard time connecting with the story. 

I love Ed Helms but his character Matt’s stalkerish and controlling behavior and “need” to connect with his surrogate really put me off the film. It was the little things like asking Anna on a dinner date, when she clearly did not want to go, and controlling what she ordered because she’s pregnant with his baby. Or that time they were talking with a surrogacy counselor and he ignored her and acted like she wasn’t even in the room. There was also that time when he showed up at her work, a coffee shop, and unannounced brought her pair of clogs and tea to make her feel more comfortable even though she explicitly told him she did not want to tell anyone she’s pregnant. Or that time Matt got upset Anna was having sex with a rando. The list could go on and on. 

I was also frustrated with Patti Harrison’s, Anna. She wants her space but, at the same time, there are little moments she spends with Matt, like when they pick out the color of the nursery where she was okay with their dynamic or let’s him touch her belly when they are in bed together. The movie is dotted with a few funny moments here and there but that’s not enough to make up for the other problems I described. 

There are also a few moments where the movies question traditional gender stereotypes. Like when Matt and Anna discuss if it’s okay for Matt to have a baby shower? Or they discuss what being a single mom or single dad looks like especially the lack of pregnancy books for single men.  The movie tries to make up for Matt’s behavior by portraying Matt as someone who is supportive and helps Anna navigate her fractured relationship with her family. Anna insists that they should set up boundaries because she won’t be in the baby’s life once it’s born but then accepts Matt’s invitation when he asks her to move in until the baby is delivered.    

Ultimately, I think it tries too hard to be charming and sweet. It tries to question traditional stereotypes (which is something I generally love to see on film) but it doesn’t completely succeed in doing so. My favorite character and moments in the film were Julio Torres’ (Jules) and his one liners. I definitely want to watch more of Beckwith, Harrison, and Torres’ work in the future. I know that this movie will find an audience, but it just wasn’t for me.

Together Together played during the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.