Birthday Girl


Genre Bender

Main Cast: Nicole Kidman, Ben Chaplin

Director: Jez Butterworth

Birthday Girl stars Ben Chaplin as the hapless bank clerk John, “the lonely guy with a good hear but no clue”, and Nicole Kidman as his Russian e-mail order bride, “the girl with a good heart but a shady past and questionable motives”. The movie has a promising start, with a patchwork look at John’s life “before movie”, with ample help from a playful soundtrack.

When Nadia arrives, it appears she speaks no English, contrary to John’s expectations. This he finds tremendously upsetting until he discovers she is willing to indulge his rather pathetic sexual fantasies. And so, again rather pathetically, John falls for (sex with) Nadia.

On the day she painfully announces her birthday in comically bad English, her 2 (male) Russian friends arrive, seemingly looking for a free ride from John. Of course John, being hapless you see, handles the situation awkwardly, and eventually mayhem ensues. John turns from lover/loser into ridiculous victim and back to lover/loser in record time, and further mayhem ensues.

This movie does not cut it as either a drama or a thriller, although it seems to have some aspirations as both. What it really boils down to is a romantic comedy (with the comedy almost entirely supplied by Chaplin’s delivery). On this level it is cute and sometimes fun, although Kidman has a hard time pulling off the Russian accent she eventually adopts (sounds vaguely Australian). A few good plot twists leads to a fairly formulaic ending, but that’s what romantic comedies do, right?

Perhaps Birthday Girl was attempting to cross the “girl movie” boundaries by providing some dramatic and thriller elements, but the styles don’t really come together. One of the movie’s truly redeeming features is Ben Chaplin, who I would like to see in better material.

Birthday Girl is not an actively bad movie, but it’s mish-mash style left me not really caring if any of the characters lived happily ever after. However, if you are a true fan of the unlikely romance, this movie might be just your thing.

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