' ' Cinema Romantico: Birthday Girl

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Birthday Girl

So after a sun soaked afternoon on a Hawaiian beach followed by The Greatest Meal On Earth (i.e. blue cheese burger, fries, pale ale) there is, of course, only one way to top it all off - with a film starring Nicole Kidman as a Russian mail order bride. Or is that just me? Probably. The point here, though, is that I was in a fabulous mood when I watched "Birthday Girl" (2001) and, thus, take my review with a grain of salt.

The film opens with John (Ben Chaplin), a neat, nerdy bank clerk in England, creating a video greeting giving away his neat, nerdy persona that he will ship off to a service in Russia which, in turn, ships him a dutiful bride in the form of Nadia (Kidman) who, contrary to poor John's desires, smokes and can't speak English. Blimey. This upsets him. Strangely, it still seems to upset him even after Nadia appears in his bedroom in the middle of the night for reasons less than family friendly. It won't take too long, however, for John to warm to her presence and make a true effort to find a place for her in his admittedly otherwise empty world. Until, as they must, a cousin and his friend show up unannounced for Nadia's birthday.

The audience will glean trouble straight away and not simply because this is what the story calls for at such a juncture. No, it will be sensed because the cousin's friend is played by that smarmiest, snakiest of French actors, Vincent Cassel, and Vincent Cassel is always a bad guy. Sure enough, John will soon be up to his geeky haircut in trouble, not the least of which is thieving money from the very bank in which he works (what, you thought he was given a key to the vault at the start of the film for no reason at all?) which sends him on the lam, though the lam will take him on an adventure he never would have expected.

The mechanics of "Birthday Girl" are routine, sure, but what affected me in this film by the Brothers Butterworth (Jez, Tom & Steve) was what drove John to do the things he does - namely, he's a nice guy. "Birthday Girl" might be the first Nice Guy Thriller. You can call John a sap, a lamebrain, a daft pawn, but he eventually figures out what is going on and then proceeds to act based on the kindness of his foolish heart. Most men would dump Nadia along the side of the road once they determined her motives but not a guy as nice as John. Everything he does - however outlandish - is completely believable when taken within that context.

My only complaint with this device would be the end when John, for the first time all movie, steps up to the plate and acts like a not-so-nice guy. I wanted him to the be the first hero in movie history to never save his own bacon, to not do anything to deserve the title "Movie Hero". Alas. In spite of that misstep, "Birthday Girl" shows that nice guys don't always finish last because sometimes they get Nicole Kidman with a Russian accent.


Andrew K. said...

Nicole Kidman was gorgeous here, I always thought Ben Chaplin would eventually make it big and I could say I "called" it, but alas - no. He's gone into oblivion. This film is not excellent by any means, but it's diverting and enjoyable for the most part.

Nick Prigge said...

Yeah, Chaplin had charisma in "A Thin Red Line", I thought, and he was decent in "Stage Beauty" but he ends up in so many basic thrillers.