Eye For Film >> Movies >> Birthday Girl (2001) Film Review
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
There are three Russians in this movie. One is played by Nicole Kidman and the others by La Haine director, Mathieu Kassovitz, and its leading actor, Vincent Cassel. The role of a St Albans bank clerk is taken by Ben Chaplin.
Imagine pitching the idea to a Hollywood producer. "Well, it's about this dull English bloke, who can't get laid, and the wife he buys off the Internet, who can't speak English, and what follows when two friends from Moscow turn up on her birthday." If the producer is still listening, you add, "She's played by an Australian and the Ruskies by Frenchmen. Don't worry about the other guy. Dull is funny. We'll get Ben Elton. No, no... Steve Coogan?"
It's not going to happen, right? Wrong!
Kidman is wonderful, Chaplin a revelation and the Frenchmen still French - if they had been unknowns, or, better still, from Eastern Europe, like the psycho killers in 15 Minutes, it might have worked.
John is such a perfect creation and so difficult to do well. Provincial bank clerks who haven't had a promotion in 10 years are not the stuff of legend. They are figures of fun, or so sad you don't want to know. Chaplin never puts a foot wrong. He conveys John's hesitancy as a lack of assertiveness, rather than a character flaw. When things get nasty, he responds with courage. It may not be according to Mel Gibson, but, from the standpoint of a suburban mouse, is heroic nevertheless.
Kidman continues to amaze. After the glamour of Moulin Rouge and the intensity of The Others, the part of Nadia, a badly dressed, sluttish woman from the former Soviet Union, could so easily have slipped into caricature. What she brings is intelligence, insight, involvement, remaining as tough and manipulative as a low-cost call girl, while responding with humanity to acts of betrayal. As the layers peel away, Nadia becomes vulnerable and Kidman joins Meryl Streep at the high table in the Hall of Accents.
The film surpasses expectation, thanks to the performances of the two leads. It remains an odd thriller, full of quirky humour. Who would have thought that John Whatsisname from the bank had a stash of S&M videos under his bed? What next?
"My name is not Nadia," Nadia says.
Oh!Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2002