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Birthday Girl disappoints with tired plot and unlikable characters

We tend to like losers in films even if we don’t know why. Maybe it’s because deep down, we feel insecure sometimes, and we wish things would come easily for us. And if something can go right for a putz on the silver screen, we feel our chances of good things happening are better.

In Birthday Girl, we like John Buckingham (Ben Chaplin) right off the bat because, for all intents and purposes, he is a loser.

However, we don’t feel so bad when things don’t go John’s way because this loser orders a bride from Russia on the Internet, and she looks like Nicole Kidman. After we see what happens to him, while gradually learning more about his reclusive nature, we begin to think he deserves it.

Birthday Girl starts out and ends up like a sweet comedy, but in the middle, the film gets lost somewhere between an erotic thriller and a predictable mystery. Kidman is annoying until the inevitable twist is revealed, and Chaplin is engaging as the lovable loser who gets taken for a ride.

We meet John as he records a video of himself to be put on the Internet. When he picks his future wife up from the airport, she comes dressed as a slightly sexy, if also slutty, Russian woman named Nadia (Kidman), wearing heavy eye shadow and sporting black hair. To John’s unpleasant surprise, she doesn’t speak a lick of English.

It doesn’t take long to smell the inevitable scam. And it takes an even shorter time to decide not to care. But before Nadia’s two Russian friends come in and break up the party, we follow the building of a relationship between two opposites and see how sex can sometimes be a better communicator than words.

This is a different Kidman than we’ve seen before. While this and her two performances from 2001 may have been over-praised, she does deserve credit for doing convincing shy and troubled, as well as seductive and submissive, all at the same time.

Kidman’s Nadia is almost mute throughout the film, only saying, “Yes,” when John asks her questions. That early dialogue, by the way, foreshadows the conclusion of the movie, which makes you smile – even though half the reason is because you will soon be exiting the theater.

However, some of the intimate moments in Birthday Girl will make you pay attention, if also make you eerily uncomfortable. The first time John and Nadia get intimate in the bedroom feels almost like an intrusion into the jarring beginning to a relationship. There is also a series of moments in which John peers into a few windows outside a motel that make you feel just as much of a voyeur as the character.

These scenes are reflections of director/co-writer Jez Butterworth and his desire to use tense sequences as a ploy to add dramatic sensibilities to a story that would otherwise come across as one of those cheesy B-movies made infamous in the 1980s.

But ultimately, Birthday Girl is the same film you’ve seen before. The film ends up being a smorgasbord of recent films such as Run Lola Run, Best Laid Plans and She’s All That.

If you’re a Kidman fan or if you enjoy late-night movies on Cinemax, you probably won’t be disappointed. But if originality is what you’re looking for, don’t waste your money here.

  • Birthday Girl is Rated R
  • Contact William Albritton at