The irresistible Nicole Kidman (MOULIN ROUGE, THE OTHERS) powers a sexy thriller where appearances can be deceiving and nothing ends as expected! A lonely and repressed bank employee, John Buckingham (Ben Chaplin, THE THIN... more » RED LINE) desperately wants to meet the right girl. Then, through a Russian mail-order bride service, he is introduced to Nadia (Kidman), a quiet and attractive woman who doesn't speak English. After several sensual encounters, John's fondness for Nadia grows ... until the sudden arrival of Nadia's two gregarious cousins makes John realize that he's in over his head. Acclaimed by critics everywhere, this unpredictably entertaining hit will keep you guessing as it keeps you on the edge of your seat!« less
Eric Anderson | London, United Kingdom | 11/23/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This off-beat British comedy directed by Jez Butterworth is a story of melancholy middle class bank teller, Ben Chaplin, who longs for a bit of companionship. As with so many modern men of today, he resorts to the internet and stumbles upon a website for mail-order Russian brides. Here he finds Nadia, Nicole Kidman, whom he orders only to find she is not what he expected. The building comedy turns quickly into a thrilling story of a betrayed man on the run. Yet, this film remains consistently light in its tone despite the dark subjects of abuse and unwanted pregnancy it could allow to overwhelm it.These well-known and respected actors do a fantastic job in their performances especially the Frenchmen Vincent Cassel & Mathieu Kassovitz and popular red-head Nicole Kidman, none of whom spoke Russian before this film and all do a convincing job of it. Not only that, but the language barrier draws out numerous quirky expressions from the actors showing their real talent. The film is beautifully shot, alternately filmed in the UK and Australia, with captivating scenes in the forest where the characters work out their plight. Ultimately, not a tremendously memorable film, but one that is skilfully designed and keeps some good laughs. What's enduring is the more realistic human aspect it contains and would probably lack if it were an American romantic-comedy. Surely it won't be a blockbuster as one might expect from its stars, but it is plenty of fun."
Happy "Birthday?" Maybe next year.
D. Litton | Wilmington, NC | 02/07/2002
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Part drama, part thriller, part comedy, "Birthday Girl" offers little in the way of laughs or suspense, while at the same time moving its characters from one crazy machination to the next without giving us much of a reason to care where they go, what they do, or if they end up together when it all comes to an end. The light at the end of the tunnel comes from Nicole Kidman and Ben Chaplin, their performances making an otherwise ludicrous film watchable. Chaplin stars as John, a lonely Englishman who busies himself searching a Russian mail-order bride website for his perfect match. Herein lies the movie's primary (and continuous) mistake: why does he feel the need to send for someone he knows nothing about, save for an intro video from the internet? At one point, we hear John in a narration likening his tactics to an everyday first acquaintance in the supermarket, a shoddy attempt at the hands of the writer to mask the lack of characterization. A slight glimmer of hope arrives with Nadia (Kidman), a very kittenish Russian woman who chain-smokes and whose knowledge of the English language consists of the word "yes." At first, John sees her as a mistake, but later he comes home one afternoon to find her going through his private collection of bondage magazines, and it's off to bed for the two strangers. The story hook (if you can classify it as such) comes when two men claiming to have a past friendship with Nadia show up at John's doorstep on the day of her birthday. Agreeing to let them stay, John soon finds himself in awkward situations, leading him to formally dismiss them from his home. The next day, one of them goes mad, threatens Nadia's life, forcing John to walk into his bank and steal a large sum of money before they all leave town in his run-down car. Of course (surprise, surprise), Nadia is not really her name, and she's affiliated with the two strange men, working with them in scamming various men in an identical fashion, all occurring on her birthday (or maybe even that's a lie they use on each victim). As if this were a grand revelation (not only is it predictable, but the movie's preview trailer leaves little hidden), the sequence of events that follow only drag the movie into an abyss of endless boredom, with a mere chuckle here and there for good measure. It's not so much the story that causes the problem; the beginning shows promise, especially through the performances of its two leads. As John, Chaplin is awkward and almost always in a daze of confusion, and there is a great deal of levity in his endless self-induced calamities. Kidman, hot off the set of last year's "Moulin Rouge" and "The Others," shows her versatility by playing the femme fatale in a most mystifying and quiescent manner. But even these two fine actors cannot bring to light the mysteries surrounding their characters. And no, I'm not referring to the mystery the movie sets forth as to who Nadia really is; what I'm talking about is a look at their motivations, their inner drives, what makes them do the things they do. Why does Nadia scam men out of money? Why does John feel he has to help this woman after he finds out she is pregnant (even though it's not his child)? In essence, the story of "Birthday Girl" is a lot like opening your a birthday gift which turns out to be a big package of socks. You put a smile on your face, hoping the next present will be something you've anticipated, and it is a mere package of underwear. I spent the whole time waiting for something to happen that would spark the film to life, but alas, the moments of humor and slight intensity are few and far between. Happy Birthday? Maybe next year."
Strange story but well told
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 08/21/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Whatever may be wrong with this film (and there are things that just simply don't work, including the somewhat claustrophbic camera work) the end result is a tantalizingly strange tale with very strong acting on the parts of Nicole Kidman and Ben Chaplin. Kidman may be close to Meryl Streep in her ability to absorb dialects, other languages, and accents. It is refreshing to see actors of this caliber take on a film that they probably knew wasn't going to be a box office hit, but just wanted the challenge of the script, the director, and the roles. Worthwhile."
The critics should really have merci...
Grady Harp | 11/17/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Imagine Nicole Kidman with black hair and tons of black eye shadow. Can't imagine that? Then see the much-delayed British film "Birthday Girl." Originally scheduled for release in September 2000, this crime comedy was filmed while Kidman was still married to Tom Cruise. She wasn't nearly as famous then as she is now, after starring last year in two award-worthy films - "Moulin Rouge" and "The Others."
In comparison, "Birthday Girl" looks and feels low budget. Which it is. That doesn't make it a bad picture. Kidman's deadpan humor is slyly diverting, and her fake Russian accent is delivered with such a lack of pretension, her role as a mail-order bride from Moscow is cute. But after Kidman's year of living famously Hollywood-style, you can bet she won't be appearing in any more pictures like this.
Here she plays a Russian mail-order bride, showing up at the international flights gate of London's airport to meet her computer-matched mail-order buyer, John Buckingham. He is played as a perpetually befuddled bank clerk by Ben Chaplin - exactly the sort of role that brought Hugh Grant so much box office success in the 1990s. For the first two-thirds of "Birthday Girl," Kidman doesn't have any lines in English at all. She speaks Russian. No word, yet, on how she sounds to Russian ears.
This picture is set in the London commuter suburb of St. Albans, filled with new generic architecture where colorless John Buckingham puts in long hours at work, then spends his free time feeling quite lonely. Though John has a sparkling suburban cottage with a big back yard, he always turns to his computer for release - surfing Websites that offer chances to meet beautiful Russian women. Spotting a picture of Nadia (Kidman), and biographic info claiming she is fluent in English, he signs up.
Within just a few minutes of screen time, John is standing at that London airport gate, staring at this dark-haired, heavily made-up woman named Nadia. She's wearing funny-looking foreign clothes and doesn't speak a word of English. What follows is a brisk British crime comedy filled with uniquely English humor we can only describe as droll. Think of "Sexy Beast" with more romance and less violence. Think of a half-dozen Australian comedies that can only be described as quirky. Toss in the words "wry" and "ironic," too.
"Birthday Girl" is a group effort from the British brothers Jez, Tom and Stephen Butterworth. Jez is the director and co-writer with Tom. Stephen is co-producer with Diana Phillips. This is the group's second film together, but the first with actors who have international reputations.
Also taking part are two well-known names in French cinema, Vincent Cassel ("Brotherhood of the Wolves") and Mathieu Kassovitz, who played the boyfriend in "Amélie."
The plot also contains some genuine surprises early on, so providing even the most vague synopsis is impossible. John and Nadia are definitely opposites that seem to have little chance of attracting each other - until Nadia's two Russian friends (Cassel and Kassovitz) show up. Their entrance is a big surprise, too, but it is just the beginning.
Suffice it to say we learn Nadia is only an alias (she has two additional aliases). We learn what "pillock" means in England, we learn mail-order brides can arrive carrying more baggage than their suitcases, and we learn Nadia is a chain smoker. There are several toilet scenes, one kick-in-the-crotch scene, one scene where John uses an acoustic guitar as a lethal weapon (though an electric guitar would have worked better) and visual proof that throughout the labyrinthine turns in this tale of comedy and crime, Kidman remains the tallest person onscreen.
The very harsh criticism that killed the public opinion really ruined the movie. When the critics hear of a romantic thirller, they excpect conventional 'John loved Jane, Bad Luck, Sob Sob Sob...'. This movie delivers many hidden messages wrapped in many sexual symbols with great acting and great direction. It is a vluable asset to any library."
Better than expected
Magneto | London, UK | 12/24/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I was compelled to write this review to defend the movie against the mostly negative criticism it has received. I watched it recently, and enjoyed it more than I expected to. I don't know why it is, but people just don't like to have their movie genres mixed-up. Yes you could say it's part romantic comedy, part thriller, part drama...but so was "Nurse Betty" and that's a really good film. In places the film is laugh-out-loud funny (usually from one of Ben Chaplin's lines), and at other times it's serious. Both Kidman and Chaplin give good performances, and the pace is kept reasonably tight with a not-too-long running time. Kidman is convincing as the russian mail order bride, and Chaplin delivers most of the film's laughs. I liked it near the end when Kidman turns the joke of saying "yes" to everything back on Chaplin!. My only point of contention with the movie (***POSSIBLE SPOILER***) is where Chaplin's character is forced to rob a bank...why didn't he just go straight to the police? This bothered me for a while, but by the end of the movie I was willing to overlook it.Ebert & Roeper (who gave it two thumbs down) said the movie was "predictable" - to me it was anything BUT predictable. Unless you want your movies neatly filed under distinctive categories/genres, I urge you to give this film a go...you may be surprised."