Birthday Girl

"OK"

Birthday Girl Review


A boring bank clerk from an English bedroom berg gets a lot more than he bargained for when he sends away for a Russian email-order bride in the semi-comical, semi-romantic thriller "Birthday Girl."

What nebbish, nervous John (Ben Chaplin) finds waiting for him at the airport is a coy, raccoon-eyed beauty named Nadia (Nicole Kidman) who -- contrary to claims on FromRussiaWithLove.com -- doesn't speak a lick of English. He takes her home anyway, but leaves several agitated messages with the matchmaking agency that go unanswered. Then in the ensuing few weeks, the girl grows on him -- and not just because she turns out to be a seductive, enthusiastic sexpot in the sack.

Using the translation dictionary he bought her as a sign of his newfound contentment, Nadia tells John it's her birthday, but fails to mention she's invited two traveling Russian friends to visit.

Although they're outwardly warm and jovial, Yuri (Mathieu Kassovitz) and Alexei (Vincent Cassel) smell like trouble from the minute they walk in the door -- and it isn't long before they turn downright dangerous. John soon finds himself a wanted man on the run from the police -- and on an adrenaline-fueled, newly emboldened hunt to find the Russians, who left him tied up in a hotel room after forcing him to rob his own bank.

Director Jez Butterworth (who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Tom) does a dexterous balancing act with the movie's mix of romance, excitement and humor -- especially after John discovers the double-crossing Nadia also tied up and abandoned by her partners in crime.

Torn between feeling sorry for her (he's still a little bit in love) and wanting to march her down to a police station, John drags Nadia along on what becomes a tables-turned game of cat and mouse that Yuri and Alexei don't know they're playing.

"Birthday Girl" doesn't become the fast-paced action-and-intrigue movie implied in its TV ads (that's just a marketing ploy to coerce the lowest common denominator into the multiplexes). Instead it's a modest and acerbically clever escapade that relies more on wit than excitement. After revealing she's known English all along, Nadia begins an adversarial flirtation that keeps John on his toes. They genuinely like each other, but will he forgive her? And can she be trusted?

"You can't hurt me more than I'm hurt already," Nadia says after being dumped by Yuri and Alexei -- who was her boyfriend and talked her into being sex bait for lonely guys in the first place.

"Nadia, if it's all the same to you, I'd like to give it a bash," John cracks back.

As the balance tips back and forth between bad guys and good guys (the Russians intercept Nadia after John tries to put her on a plane), John starts to consider options other than setting the record straight and going back to his dull daily grind.

The picture's light, dry and droll undertone helps it overcome a few glaringly unlikely goings on -- not the least of which is that the Butterworths' script doesn't give John enough motivation for ignoring his many opportunities to get out of his predicament. Why hasn't he called the police before Nadia gets the best of his sympathies with her newfound mea culpa disposition?

But "Birthday Girl" has a certain mischievous zest that helps smooth over its story shortcomings, and the actors pepper their performances with just the right amount of abstract irony to keep you from taking the film too seriously. Chaplin ("Lost Souls," The Truth About Cats and Dogs") stifles his inherent charm and good looks to espouse John's apprehensive nature (and later, his carpe diem gallantry). Kidman is sexy and sly as the deceitful but ultimately regretful Nadia, giving her more complexity than any character like this has on paper. French actors Kassovitz ("Amélie") and Cassel ("Brotherhood of the Wolf") lend a charismatic, coiled rattlesnake menace to Yuri and Alexei (curiously, there are no actual Russians in this movie), who have built a good cop-bad cop repartee into their practiced criminal scheme.

But a special tip of the hat must go to costume designer Phoebe de Gaye, who contributes immeasurably to these characters' identities by embracing the film's idiosyncratic sense of humor. John's starchy short sleeve shirts and awkwardly snug ties have an ingenuously dorky quality, Nadia's sweet tart wardrobe is exactly the kind of garb popular in behind-the-times Eastern Europe, and the Russians' flashy open-shirt, leather-pants ensembles give them the unmistakable look of second-rate gangster wannabes. Between what these outfits have to say and the body language they inspire, "Birthday Girl" could almost go without dialogue and remain the same flawed but appealing guilty pleasure.



Birthday Girl

Facts and Figures

Run time: 93 mins

In Theaters: Friday 1st February 2002

Box Office USA: $4.9M

Box Office Worldwide: $16.2M

Distributed by: Miramax Films

Production compaines: HAL Films, Mirage Enterprises

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Fresh: 71 Rotten: 51

IMDB: 6.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Sophie alias Nadia, as John, as Alexei, as Yuri, Kate Lynn Evans as Clare, as Bank Manager, as Karen, Jo McInnes as Waitress, as Concierge, as D.I. O'Fetiger, Rebecca Clarke as Bank Colleague, as Porter, Raj Ghatak as Bank Colleague, David Mark as Bank Colleague, Jack Pierce as Bank Colleague, Alan Stocks as Passport Official, Steve Pemberton as Duty sergeant, as Porter, J.J. Toba as Policeman, as Robert Mosley

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Life Movie Review

Life Movie Review

Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective...

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

Based on a true story, it's the historical aspect of these events that holds the...

Chips Movie Review

Chips Movie Review

It's clear from the very start that this movie has little to do with the...

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to...

The Salesman Movie Review

The Salesman Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with this astute drama which, like 2011's...

Get Out Movie Review

Get Out Movie Review

Leave it to a comedian to make one of the scariest movies in recent memory....

Personal Shopper Movie Review

Personal Shopper Movie Review

After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of...

Advertisement
Certain Women Movie Review

Certain Women Movie Review

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

After the success of 2014's Godzilla reboot, the Warner Bros monsters get their own franchise,...

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Filmmaker Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham) draws on her own family history to explore...

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a...

Logan Movie Review

Logan Movie Review

Hugh Jackman returns to his signature role one last time (so he says), reuniting with...

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.