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Review: Birthday Girl

Nicole Kidman is a present that Ben Chaplin wants to return…

Nicole Kidman as a Russian mail-order bride in Birthday Girl 4-star rating
STARS Nicole Kidman, Ben Chaplin, Vincent Cassel, Mathieu Kassovitz
DIRECTOR Jez Butterworth SCREENPLAY Tom and Jez Butterworth CERTIFICATE 15 DISTRIBUTOR Film Four RUNNING TIME
1hr 33mins OPENING DATE June 28

Ben Chaplin’s John is a sad, Billy-no-mates, awkward-type bank clerk who has ordered up a Russian Internet bride. She duly arrives in the form of non-English speaking, chain-smoking, vomiting Nadia (Kidman). John knows he’s made a mistake but his sudden reluctance is no match for Nadia who won’t take no for an answer. The slightly sordid, slightly tender, faltering love story that then unfolds might have you wondering why this film is billed as a thriller. But never fear, there’s a twist on the way and it’s one that takes Birthday Girl into more brutal, crime-spiced, on-the-run territory.

Although this movie has its bleak, serious and violent moments, at its heart it is essentially a farce, featuring a host of supporting performers from the world of UK comedy (all three of the on-screen League of Gentlemen appear, for example). It lifts itself above the commonplace with the strength of its performers and the boldness of its story structure.

Despite valiant attempts at ‘dowdying-down’ by the make-up department, Kidman and Chaplin are rather too good-looking for their mundane roles; but they more than make up for that with high quality performances. Kidman especially impresses as the mysterious Nadia, speaking only Russian for much of the film. Chaplin, not obvious casting for a tragic loner, also succeeds in the more challenging of the two starring roles. He cleverly avoids sentimentally playing the victim, managing instead to make John realistically vindictive and distinctly unpleasant at times. Kidman, too, gives a hard edge to Nadia, adding some credibility to what might otherwise have been seen as a slushy ending.

The screenwriters have delivered a pleasing combination of movie styles here, which may confuse those looking for obvious genre signposts. Birthday Girl certainly has a low-budget Brit-pic feel, but when it shifts up a gear its narrative pacing and shooting style are self-assured, slick and mainstream. Bank jobs, bondage, Kidman’s bare bum, plenty of laughs and surprises should ensure a good night out.

by Nick Briggs

Read our Ben Chaplin interview, plus a full range of reviews for the four weeks covered by this issue, in:
Film Review (Jul)

Film Four
Review © Visual Imagination 2002. Not for reproduction

Taken from
Film Review (Jul), see below for ordering options
Film Review (Jul)
#620, July 2002
ships from Jun 22 2002
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