Film Review: Birthday Girl (2001)

“Are you a giraffe?”

Birthday Girl is a rather odd little thing, a 2001 film from Jez Butterworth (he of Jerusalem) that seemed to slip under the radar somewhat. It’s not brilliant but by the same token it isn’t terrible either and plenty worse films have made bigger waves. Ben Chaplin’s John is hapless in St Albans (is there anything else you can be there? ;-)), having no luck in love and so resorting to getting himself a Russian mail-order bride called Nadia. She turns up in the form of Nicole Kidman, who else, and though she can’t speak a word of English, she indulges his S&M fantasies and so job’s, it would seem, a good’un.

But it’s no happily ever after, Nadia’s two rough cousins soon turn up on the doorstep (played by Frenchmen Vincent Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz, assumedly because the Russians were out on the day they were casting?) and John’s job as a bank clerk turns out to be rather important. Their unpredictable violence pulls John deep into a morass of deception and criminality but after the mid-film twists take place, the movie runs out of energy and trundles towards a rather uninspired ending that no amount of random Brit cameos (Ben Miller, Reece Shearsmith) can rescue.

Kidman is strong as the enigmatic Nadia, unable to communicate in English and so using a raw sexuality to get her point across, it’s quite a daring performance from her, and one that deepens as the film continues. It’s a shame that a lead of equivalent talent wasn’t attracted to slum it in the independent sector with her as Chaplin doesn’t quite match up to her at all, he’s a rather blank presence in the end – especially against Cassel’s huge charisma – making this a bit of a grind despite Kidman’s good work.

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