Birthday Girl Movie Review

At one point toward the end of Birthday Girl, Ben Chaplin's defeated character sits in front of a campfire looking at the woman who transformed his lonely but successful life into that of a criminal. For the first time in the film, I could finally relate to him. I too felt beaten down. The connection I felt was not because I'm a nice guy facing similar woman troubles, but because neither Chaplin's character nor the movie itself bear the slightest amount of common sense.

Chaplin plays John, a British bank clerk who has accomplished everything in his life except for finding true love. As the film opens, he is rehearsing his life script in front of a Webcam for a Russian online mail-order bride service. He's finally had enough of the dating world, so he reaches out halfway across the globe to find a wife.

After combing through his bridal options, John finds his ideal match in Nadia (Nicole Kidman -- who wouldn't!?), but contrary to what he's been told, when his new wife arrives, John finds out she does not speak a word of English. Clearly uncomfortable, John wants the mail order service to take her back. But, that wouldn't be a movie! So instead of getting rid of this woman, he buys her a dictionary and somehow she is able to tell him it is her birthday. (If I were planning to marry someone, I'd at least know when her birthday is.) Nadia wants a party. Just as John presents her a cake, her Russian cousin Yuri and his friend Alexei arrive with Vodka... and their bags. They're not just there for the party; they're moving in!

Sadly, John does not catch on. Then, he wakes up one morning to find Nadia tied up in rope and Alexei wielding a knife. Now we are starting to get John's attention. Alexei threatens to harm Nadia if his demands for money are not met. Believing he has no other options, John retreats to his bank to rob it, never occurring to John to call the cops from the bank. He robs it, they flee in Johns car, and make it to a roadside motel where John learns that Nadia, Alexei, and Yuri are actually clever associates that have conned him. After a spending a few days tied up, John escapes and finds Alexei and Yuri gone. But Nadia has been left behind. This makes no sense; the gig is up. John already knows the plan. Why is she still there? The three of them should be halfway back to Moscow.

But then again, there is little sense to be made of Birthday Girl. How are we supposed to identify with John when there are so many common sense plot holes? In fact, how are we supposed to even follow the movie with so many gaps in the story? Here are just a few examples: John goes back to work just days after Nadia's arrival even though he is upset about being deceived on her lack of English skills. Somehow, though, he has no problem leaving her home alone in his house while he is at work. After the bank robbery, the news spreads through the area, yet a coffee shop waitress does not recognize him as a fugitive. John's getaway car sits in front of a hotel where he is being held captive for two days and the police do not find him. When he brings Nadia to the airport at the end of the film, he encounters police, security, and customs agents yet he goes unnoticed.

And why doesn't John just turn them in? He has ample opportunities to rat on these con artists. He even drags Nadia into a police station with the intentions of giving her up and exposing the fraud, but he doesn't when he finds out she is pregnant with Alexei's child. Now that is desperate to find love.

There are no answers to any of these mysteries, only lopsided questions. Is Birthday Girl supposed to be the farce of a movie it has made itself into or were we really supposed to believe this crock of a story. Hell, I knew I was being conned just from hearing Kidman's attempt at a Russian accent.

Birthday party in action.


Birthday Girl Rating

" Unbearable "

Rating: R, 2002


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