Birthday Girl (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner07/01/2002

Three out of five stars
Running time: 93 mins

Decent, low-budget British comedy that features some strong performances and isn’t afraid to take some unexpected turns.

Birthday Girl is that rarest of beasts, a decent British comedy. It finally arrives here seven months after it enjoyed minor success at the London Film Festival, prior to which it had been held up for nearly two years, while they waited for Nicole Kidman to become available for reshoots. Luckily, it was worth the wait – Kidman gives an impressive performance and director Butterworth keeps it all ticking along at a sharpish rate.

Sight Unseen

British actor Ben Chaplin (who is also in this week’s Murder By Numbers) stars as John, a pathetic bank clerk who orders a Russian mail-order bride off the internet. Apparently he orders her ‘sight unseen’, because he’s both surprised and, naturally, more than a little pleased when he ends up with Nicole Kidman’s Nadia (complete with dyed black hair and pale make-up).

Initially, things go swimmingly, as she willingly indulges his somewhat kinky fantasies, despite not being able to speak English. However, John gets more than he bargained for when Nadia’s two “cousins” (French actors Mathieu Kassovitz and Vincent Cassel) turn up to celebrate her birthday…

Flawless Russian Accents

It’s the performances that make Birthday Girl work as well as it does – they’re good enough to carry the film through one or two of its weaker moments. For one thing, Kidman, Kassovitz and Cassel all deliver what sound like flawless Russian accents to the untrained ear. It may seem, initially like odd casting, but both Kassovitz (Nino from Amelie) and Cassel are superb, with the former adding a hint of menace to his deceptively charming exterior and the latter enjoying the more violent, unpredictable role and wringing every ounce of tension from the performance.

Chaplin isn’t the most interesting of actors, but, to his credit, he manages to turn an initially unsympathetic character into someone you can comfortably root for by the end – he clearly has something of a knack for playing geeky loser-types. Kidman, too, is extremely impressive – here’s hoping she continues to turn out low-budget pictures like this, instead of ‘going Hollywood’ on the back of her recent successes.

In fact, British stage director Jez Butterworth’s talents don’t end there – he even manages to get a convincing performance out of the Australian countryside, which believably stands in for sunny Hertfordshire.

In short, Birthday Girl is worth seeing for the quality of the performances, as well as an amusing, nicely-written script with a bladder-friendly running time that ensures that it doesn’t out-stay its welcome. Recommended.

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Birthday Girl (15)
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Content updated: 17/10/2017 06:42

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