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Birthday Girl

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Birthday Girl
from Film Forum, 02/07/02

Birthday Girl, directed by Jez Butterworth, has been on Miramax's shelf for three years. It might have stayed there if it hadn't been for the recent Kidman-mania. Nicole Kidman just won a Golden Globe for Moulin Rouge and turned in another sensational performance in The Others, and the sudden surge of her popularity is a wave Miramax hopes to ride. Birthday Girl's Ben Chaplin plays a bank teller who, miserable with loneliness, decides to treat himself to an Internet-order bride (Kidman) from Russia. He gets more than he e-bargained for, when her two mischievous cousins pay a visit for her birthday.

Sounds like a potentially wacky comedy, but the critics aren't laughing. The U.S. Catholic Conference's critic says the "initial quirkiness abruptly gives way to menace," and the film "becomes increasingly formulaic before ending on a falsely upbeat note that allows the protagonists to escape the consequences of their criminal actions."

Phil Boatwright (The Movie Reporter) writes, "The film changes genres going from offbeat romantic comedy to a more serious thriller … [and] it doesn't succeed at either. Neither the execution of the story not the performances are very engaging. There's really not much to learn from this film and the emphasis on sensuality is not very conducive to spiritual growth."

And Peter T. Chattaway (The Vancouver Courier) says it is "full of implausible plot twists and undeveloped threads, and it is ultimately unworthy of Kidman's talents. The script … does give the cast a few good moments; Chaplin is especially good at conveying the anger and wounded pride beneath John's meek exterior. But the film as a whole is ultimately beneath them all. This is one birthday gift you may want to return to the store."

Most mainstream critics would happily exchange this birthday present for either of Kidman's other recent hits.

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) says, "The movie's downfall is to substitute plot for personality. It doesn't really know or care about the characters, and uses them as markers for a series of preordained events. Since these events take us into darker places than we expect, and then pull us back out again with still more arbitrary plotting, we lose interest; these people do not seem plausible, and we feel toyed with. Even the funny moments feel like nothing more than—well, the filmmakers inventing funny moments."