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Birthday Girl | Review

Jez-us What Were they Thinking?

Kidman is golden, the rest of the film however…?

Nicole Kidman as a mail-order bride? Before you open up your wallet for a 2-hour taste of the exotic let us check out the lingo. Ben Chaplin (The Truth about Cats and Dogs) is a lonely, and well-trusted bank employee with a taste for the erotic who resorts to Internet match-making services to find that special someone, and jackpot he finds this poor Russian girl played by Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge) who can’t speak a word of English. Their relationship which starts in an airport pick-up solidifies into a relationship in which he doesn’t need to speak to her and she is willing to satisfy him, and I’m not talking about washing clothes or bathroom sink. Match made in heaven? Right? Nope, welcome to the match made in hell. Nadia’s birthday brings plenty of surprises has a couple of Russian buddies played by Vincent Cassel (The Brotherhood of the Wolf) and Mathieu Kassovitz (The Fifth Element) whom come to visit and spread a little vodka-educed hap-hazard violence.

Sounds juicy, sounds promising, but is the film worth seeing? Nope. Too bad, because the film starts off as a low-brow romantic comedy (just take a look at the car he drives) which is its charm for the first 30 minutes of the film until it is abandoned for a messed up series of pointless subplots. It hard to fathom why anybody, in their right mind, would have any once of positive thoughts from the heart after being completely betrayed and having their livelihood completely destroyed. So instead of doing the “right thing”, plotting revenge by at least anonymously telling authorities that there are Russians with stolen cash, we are forced into this notion that because he is a wanted fugitive then he can only come up with a whimsically attitude-discarding all logical thoughts in the place of what the narrative would call, “a romantic interlude”. Every single action afterwards makes us hard to believe in the chemistry that Butterworth is trying so hard to build. And when it comes to the ultimate test, we could care less about the airport security suspense sequence. At one point in the film I thought that it was going to be this slick noir-ish comedy with a twist, but instead it comes across looking like a film with no meat on the bone, mangled up in a bland narrative with uninteresting characters. Birthday Girl asks the viewer to suspend good judgement and basic common sense in the name of a rather weak narrative and poorly constructed character motivations. If there is anything that saves this film from being a complete disaster, it is Kidman, who is at the top of her game, seductive, charming as a poor orphaned Russian sex toy. For a film that was probably shot in less than three weeks, she mastered her role as a Russian femme fatal pretty well, not to mention she’s convincing as a Bolshevik with the language she picked up. In comparison to her counterpart, I had trouble seeing him as the hopeless victim of everyday life, the guy who misses out on all the promotions with the looks that are pretty decent doesn’t work. As for Cassel he brings back some of his good old charm from La Haine. But then again, almost anyone could have played the role of a psychotic-drunk.

They sometimes say that less is better, but Birthday Girl asks a little too much from the viewer, not only did I not believe in the off-beat romance, I didn’t fall for the dumbed-down vodka-guzzling bandits with the perfect plan, but fail to execute it to the end with their nonchalant attitude about leaving the country. Butterworth does very little to generate any interest and with a dulled crayon script and poor character development, the end product is a film that demonstrates why it might be placed in a January slot.

Rating 1 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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