Plot: What’s it about?
Nicole Kidman might just be one of the prettiest faces to ever grace the silver screen; and that’s a bold statement considering how many beautiful women have chosen movie-acting as their profession. However, in Birthday Girl, she is purposely toned down to try and look peekid and non-desirable. My reaction to what they tried to do…sorry guys, it didn’t work! While she’s not her usual “bright-eyed, red locks flowing over her shoulders” self, she plays the part of Nadia, a Russian mail-order bride and the hopeful answer to one John (Ben Chaplin). Maybe it’s the low-budget nature of the film or maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t expect it to take place in England, but for me – this didn’t work as well as the filmmakers might have hoped. To quote John when he’s describing his likes and dislikes on a webcam “Films. If they’re good”. The film might not be John’s ideal match then. Here’s why.
John (Chaplin) is a meager individual who works days in a London bank. He’s been passed over for promotion a number of times and lives in the shadow of his co-workers. He’s nice, fair-looking but doesn’t seem to possess that killer instinct to secure a higher-paying job or a girlfriend. He’s had a girlfriend before, but he readily admits to Nadia later in the film that she is dead (although she’s not). It doesn’t really go into any more detail than that, but we see that he is a bit on the desperate side as he’s ordering a bride off a website! This is where Nadia (Nicole Kidman) enters the picture, in it’s most literal sense. He has requested a non-smoking, English-speaking bride–both of which she is not. She can only spout out the word “Yes” in her Russian slang. Jokingly asks if she’s a giraffe, she replies “Yes” and then smiles. John’s immediate reaction is to “return” her (though any other person should keep a mail order bride who looks like Nicole Kidman in my book). However, he has a change of heart when she finds his hidden porno collection and starts acting out some of the scenes with him. He’ll keep her. Good choice, John. Now this is when the film takes on one of its many shifts…
Nadia has two of her friends arrive, Alexi (Vincent Cassel) and Yuri (Mathieu Kassovitz) who decide to crash at John’s place. Not knowing what the hell is going on, he’s a good sport about it and decides his life is fine (i.e. he’s still having sex with Nadia). Once he asks his guests to leave, they hold Nadia hostage and demand money or her life is over. Stealing money from his own band, he complies and the film continues to take more twists and turns as we get more and more confused. I hesitate to give any more of the plot away as it will give the movie away, and at only 90 minutes it has a lot of twists to keep track of in such a short amount of time. Birthday Girl isn’t a bad movie, I found it entertaining. Kidman, though she tries to look bad, just cannot. She runs around in slinky outfits, so for anyone who wants to see that…this is the ticket. I felt it could have (and should have) been longer to explain some of the things that were going on. Still, it kind of falls short. The DVD is rather featureless, so you might want to rent before you purchase this one.
Video: How does it look?
As far as day and date DVD’s from Disney go, this is right up there. Though I received my copy early, I received the final version, but around the 15 minute mark, it skipped. I took the disc out and noticed no scratches, so I put it back in and it did it again at the same place, then again a few minutes later. I ended up having to skip about three minutes of the movie as it was frozen. I don’t know if this is a disc flaw, my DVD player (have had no other problems with any other DVD) or something else; but just be warned that the disc might be faulty. Still, for the rest of the movie, the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer was very solid throughout. The colors, I believe, are purposely muted to reflect the mood of the film. Kidman’s pasty look and racoon eyes are clear as a bell and there were only a few blips from time to time to detract from the score. Take away the frozen part and you’d have a really good image here!
Audio: How does it sound?
A bit more disappointing is the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. While, admittedly, the track never really has a chance to shine; it does from time to time. The dialogue, which is the most important part of the film (you’ll be reading a LOT of subtitles), is clear and you can hear every syllable in which Nadia tries to speak her native Russian. There are some surround effects, but they’re so sparce that I can’t even remember where they took place. A good track, but nothing that adds to the movie.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Not a lot here, just a brief featurette “The Making of Birthday Girl” and a music video. The featurette is a standard EPK that come on most every disc these days. I believe a Director’s Cut has to be out there somewhere, maybe 20 more minutes could have turned this film from “Average” to “Great”. We’ll never know…