Birthday Girl

| March 19, 2002

What if you were a long-time trusted bank employee and your mail order Russian bride was being held captive in your car by two guys with a knife? They then send you into the bank where they cannot see you. What would you do?
Ninety-nine percent of the people I asked this question said, “I’d call the cops.”
The trouble is, if bank clerk John Buckingham (Ben Chaplin, Lost Souls) did that, the movie would have been over in thirty minutes.
Up to this point, I was enjoying Birthday Girl, a quirky flick about a man who uses the Internet to find love from Russia in the form of Nadia (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge), but when two of her friends come to visit her on her birthday, things begin to go terribly wrong. French actors Vincint Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz play Yuri and Alexi, the two friends who show up on Nadia’s birthday. When Cassel begins to get “forward” with Nadia, John asks the two men to leave and they go nuts, forcing him to go to his bank or they will kill Nadia.
There is a great plot twist in this movie, but by the time we get to it, the idea that John could have been out of the situation by just calling the cops weighed so heavily on my mind that it is completely wasted. I found myself just waiting for the movie to come to the inevitable happy ending so I could go home and watch West Wing, which I had taped previously in the week. Martin Sheen and company saved my evening.
This was the second time that Jez Butterworth has written and directed his own film. The first was Mojo in 1997. (You missed that one? Me too.) I think it is time for him to either do one or the other, but if he is going to continue in this industry he should have someone help him with the story lines.
The first thirty minutes are good. We get to watch Nadia, who speaks no English, and John, who speaks no Russian, get to know each other. John gradually gets used to the idea that this could work, especially when Nadia seems to want to make things work by indulging him in what seem to be some very erotic fantasies involving bondage. Not a lot of nudity, but we are teased by Kidman’s perfectly round bottom as she looks out a window. Nice, but not worth recommending the movie.
This was the second movie that Chaplin has starred in that went south after a promising beginning. He was also in Lost Souls with Winona Ryder in 2000. Team those two up with his appearance in Thin Red Line, and I think it’s time for him to find another agent.
For Kidman, this ends a streak of five movies (Moulin Rouge, The Others, Eyes Wide Shut, The Peacemaker and Practical Magic) which were wonderfully successful. She is terrific here as well, but the movie let her down.
I’m sorry to say that this is not even a rental. It’s why I say that, at FilmMonthly, we see them so you don’t have to. Wait for cable to enjoy Kidman’s performance.

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