Kidman takes the cake

Birthday Girl

Directed by Jez Butterworth

Starring Nicole Kidman, Ben Chaplin, Mathieu Kassovitz, and Vincent Cassel


Birthday Girl, staring Nicole Kidman and Ben Chaplin, is a remnant of the once popular trend in cinema to infuse the quirky genres of black comedy, action/thriller and screwball romance. Its slight, off-kilter style reminds us of a gentler Tarantino who has excised visceral violence in favor of kinky wickedness. This could be because the film’s distributor, Miramax, shelved it for three years and released it now to capitalize on Kidman’s current popularity. Yet Birthday Girl is doomed doomed to be mediocre regardless of when it hits theaters.

Kidman plays Nadia, a Russian mail-order bride who finds herself in the English home of a button-down bank clerk John (Chaplin, looking like a doughy Joaquin Phoenix). John is immediately displeased, not with Nadia’s disturbing heroin-chic style, but with her smoking and inability to speak English. Eventually, thanks to Nadia’s kinky sexuality, the poor bloke begins to feel liberated from the monotonous confines of his life. However, when the two are greeted with the presence of Nadia’s Russian “cousins” (French actors Mathieu Kassovitz and Vincent Cassel), the film veers drastically from its once seemingly standard premise.

It’s here when director Jez Butterworth’s film becomes an incomprehensible display of shift changes and needless surprises. Butterworth’s focus strays from the interesting subtleties of the twosome’s budding emotions towards each other and instead concentrates on a hokey criminal scheme between Kidman and her foreign counterparts. These changes are not only abrupt but uncomfortably violent as well, lending an odd and convoluted feel to the film, especially when it attempts to bilk comedy out of Kassovitz and Cassel’s creepy personalities.

Kidman is really the only thing worth watching in Birthday Girl, and her performance adds another dimension to the actress’s already impressive track record of playing atypical characters. Her accent, though calculated at times, seems so genuine that I doubt I could ever tell the difference between hers and the real thing.

Birthday Girl is one of those films whose release involves little fanfare and warrants an equally indifferent goodbye. When looking at the long list of end credits to Kidman’s rendition of Something Stupid, I wondered if the film’s release was worth the wait at all.

-Charlie Hobart


Birthday Girl is at area theaters.