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This is a comedy based on national stereotypes, no doubt. If you leave away pretending you know or you care what Communism was about and how real Russians or Brits are, if you accept and are not hurt by the conventions, you can have fun with this film. Nicole Kidman is at her best, sexy, moving and funny. Ben Chaplin succeeds to avoid being completely out-shadowed by Nicole, and the rest of the cast does good work as well. The final is moving, and logical - movie logics, of course. Worth watching, if you accept the rules of the game.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Birthday Girl" is one of the very few British films, possibly the only
one, to be set in St Albans, a cathedral city just north of London.
John Buckingham, a bank clerk, orders a mail-order bride from Russia
via the Internet. (She is described as a "bride", but as they never
actually marry "mail-order mistress" would seem a more appropriate
term). When the girl, Nadia, arrives it becomes clear that she cannot
speak English, and John, who cannot speak Russian, considers asking her
to return to Russia. When, however, he discovers how sexually
uninhibited she is he decides to let her stay.
It soon transpires, however, that John is the victim of a scam. On Nadia's birthday two men, Yuri (who claims to be her cousin) and his friend Alexei, turn up at the house. At first John is happy to let them stay, but they show no sign of wanting to leave, and when John asks them to do so Alexei turns nasty, holding Nadia hostage and threatening to harm her unless John steals a large sum of money from the bank where works.
John pretends to comply with Alexie's demands, but as soon as he is out of the house he goes straight to the police who raid the house, rescue Nadia and arrest Yuri and Alexei. The two crooks receive lengthy prison sentences and John and Nadia live happily after as soon as she has learned enough English to say "I do". End of story.
Ignore everything I wrote in the last paragraph. I made it all up. That might have been the logical thing for John to have done, but then if he had acted logically there would have been no film, or at least not a very interesting one. Director Jez Butterworth evidently belongs to that school of film-makers who regard logic, plausibility and psychological consistency as being detrimental rather than conducive to good film-making. Instead of tipping off the police, John walks into the vault of his bank with two empty guitar cases and walks out with both full of banknotes. His colleagues seem either unaware of, or blithely unconcerned by, what he is doing. When he gets back to the house with the money, however, he finds out that Nadia, far from being the innocent victim of Yuri and Alexei, is actually their accomplice in the scam- indeed, she is Alexei's girlfriend.
The three Russians disappear with their loot. John, a sadder but a wiser man, hands himself into the police and is sent to jail but receives a lighter sentence because of the extenuating circumstances involved. End of story.
Again, ignore that last paragraph. I made it up. Now it is Yuri and Alexei's turn to do something bizarrely improbable. They disappear with the loot, leaving John tied up, but for some reason they also leave Nadia tied up alongside him. The ostensible reason given is that Alexei is angry because Nadia is pregnant with John's child, but both they and the scriptwriters have overlooked the fact that Nadia, who knows their true identities, is in possession of information which could put them in jail for a very long time indeed. That, I submit, would have been enough motivation for Alexei to swallow his resentment and avoid doing anything which might provoke Nadia to turn Queen's Evidence. John and Nadia go on the run and, remarkably, manage to evade detection even though John has now been identified as a suspected bank robber, his description has been widely circulated by the police and he is driving around the countryside in a highly distinctive bright orange sports car.
The casting seems just as bizarre as the plotting. Ben Chaplin as John is not too bad, but even though the other three main characters are all supposed to be Russian, none of them is actually played by a Russian. Nadia is played by Hollywood's favourite Aussie, Nicole Kidman. Presumably the film-makers cast her with an eye on the international market, but I'm afraid that the lovely Nicole did little except confirm my long-standing opinion that her undoubted talent for acting is not matched by an equal talent for picking the right film. (See also "Moulin Rouge", "The Stepford Wives", "Practical Magic" and several other turkeys of the same ilk). Yuri and Alexei are both played by French actors Mathieu Kassovitz and Vincent Cassel. God know why. The film-makers can't have had that big an eye on the French market. Large chunks of the dialogue are in Russian; I can't speak that language, but neither, apparently, can Kidman, Kassovitz and Cassel. Russians who have seen the film have described their accents as so inaccurate as to be barely comprehensible.
The film ends with John, disguised as Alexei, leaving for Russia with Sophia. We never learn what happens to them when they get there, but we are probably supposed to assume it is along the lines of "happily ever after". In real life, of course, John would probably end up in a Russian jail on a charge of entering the country on a false passport and then, when he had served his sentence, being extradited to Britain to stand trial for the bank robbery. "Birthday Girl", however, is the sort of film which has a very strained relationship with real life. Indeed, they are barely on speaking terms. 4/10
A goof. It is never explained how John, a modest bank clerk, can afford a massive five- or six-bedroomed detached house in St Albans, a notoriously expensive city to live with some of the highest property prices outside central London.
The story line isn't all that important here. It's a young man getting
a beautiful mail order bride, who turns out to be trouble.
It's the classical romantic style that really picks this film up. Nicole Kidman has never been "hotter", no offense meant to her. But here she is the ultimate in romantic allure.
In true old fashioned romantic style, the woman is the mystery, and the man is the one who struggles and looks. Too often the film makers have turned this around, and it just doesn't work. Now, we get back to old fashioned basics.
It doesn't work the other way around because young men are always looking. There is no such thing as a "confident young man" who has hero quality.
A third character shows us the "confident young man". This is the guy who was lucky enough to have a criminal mentor in his youth, one lucky enough to see past the lies that elders tell other children to keep them in line of being good losers.
Our hero is one such "regular" guy, who didn't have the loving parent, guardian, or mentor. Such a guy is doomed to mediocrity, to never being elected or promoted, without regal family ties.
Our heroine is the bad girl who begins with the bad guy. In fact, the hero finds himself at the mercy of three criminals, and he is in a hopeless predicament.
The worst of them is the third character I spoke of, who is a human monster, plain and simple. The fourth character is rather likable, and provides a pretty good balance. It's important to have such a balance in the fourth character.
What transpires is a gamut of emotions. The story is second. This is a stylistic romance to the max. Whenever Nicole is on, the imagery is superb. When she is off camera, the imagery flattens. She makes the impression. This is a very well directed piece. It isn't the highest in story telling, but ranks up near the top in artistic romance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ben Chaplin is the best part of this semi-interesting film.
You have to feel for his character, a sad-sack bank clerk who just wants a little love in his life. Boy, is he idealistic.
Mail-order bride as pimp bait is definitely an original idea. I suspected Nicole Kidman's character was a prostitute but I couldn't have foreseen all the twists and turns to follow. It's a decent plot with a little too neat of an ending.
Kidman was tiresome to watch and I couldn't quite believe that John actually cared for her. Maybe it's that he didn't want to abandon his child (though he certainly shouldn't be assuming it's his). It's impossible to believe this pair will live happily ever after when it's he who becomes an émigré groom.
(I know the Russian thugs weren't meant to be attractive but I found them so loathsome I had to fast-forward through their later scenes.)
A sexy ride with Nicole Kidman who brings erotic heat to her character
. It deals with a shy thirty something bank clerk named John (Ben
Chaplin who subsequently didn't have a successful career) from St
Albans , he has his small-town life exploded by the arrival of his
Russian mail-order bride named Nadia (Nicole Kidman who shows her high
range), she doesn't speak English , but the two begin to talk the
international language anyway . Nadia brings some color into his drab ,
dull life , as John hardly has time to wallow in his newfound bliss
when he's besieged by problems . Before they share a future, they have
to survive her past , somebody in for a big surprise . Then the bank
clerk is beset by Russian strangers (though no actor in the movie
actually speaks Russian, nor does the director) claiming to be Nadia's
relatives (Mattieu Kassovitz , Vincent Kassel) . The timid clerk is
drawn into a cobweb of deceit , fraud and robbing .
This love story/actioner contains intrigue , suspense , drama and fine interpretations . Good performances specially by Nicole Kidman as mysterious and sexy online mail-order bride who reportedly learned Russian language for the movie , as she went to the Russian Embassy in Australia for help in speaking Russian , she didn't work with any other coach on the set except the woman from the embassy. Decent film but with no surprises , the story is predictable , being developed in right way . Adequate and thrilling musical score by Stephen Warbeck . Colorful and atmospheric cinematography by Oliver Stapleton . Being well produced by the Butterworth clan and the magnificent filmmaker/producer Sydney Pollack .
The motion picture was professionally directed by Jez Butterworth , though without originality . His feature film directorial hip debut was Mojo (1997) who also wrote and starred Ian Hart, Ewen Bremner, Aidan Gillen and Harold Pinter and was officially selected for the 1998 Venice Film Festival , being an outstanding critical and public success . Butterworth's other film writing credits include Marc Munden's Christmas and David Giles' The Night of the Golden Brain, both of which he co-wrote with his brother Tom , besides he wrote the hit smashes titled 'The last legion' and 'Fair game' . Rating : 6 , acceptable and passable . Worthwhile watching .
When I saw Birthday Girl I liked it so much I set out to see every
Nicole Kidman film I could, only to find all of them a disappointment
compared to it. I theorize that while the presence of a particular star
usually guarantees a certain level of quality because of their artistic
control, with Nicole Kidman the influence she exerts is detrimental to
film enjoyment--IMHO. Thus for instance, Dogville, even depriving the
viewer of anything visual to detract from the existential insight she
is hammering home, or other films promoting gay and lesbianism as
worthy of anyone else's attention, or other pet causes of Kidman's.
Here she is a natural woman and she does a really great job. I don't how or who was able to restrain her, but apparently it worked. The way the film depicts her openness despite her resistance gets to the heart of what makes a woman soft. And consequently, what makes a man's most desperate hopes marginally attainable.
Of course, the fact the male lead transforms from a milquetoast clerk to macho man in the space of one film sounds like a male ego expansion fantasy, but his transformation is adequately believable. It isn't coyly contrived as it would be in a film engineered to bolster male ego. Instead it accurately records necessary growth arising from the films unique circumstances.
Also quite charming is the way the criminals are portrayed as perfectly human, apart from their criminal mission. Her gang has a coed rough and tumble fellowship which is foreign to American culture. And while they are his adversaries, they are never really his enemy. In fact, they are his best friends. In effect, they teach him how to compete and they dohat in a thoroughly civilized way.
I really marveled at Kidman's ability to physically appear Russian. It had me wondering whether her ancestry was Russian, but none of the photos of her I examined showed any hint of it. Maybe it is just makeup but it was amazing.
I can only hope that they knock her over the head again soon so she can turn out another great film. Despite my gratuitous digs at Ms. kidman, the message is this is a superior film in every way and probably the role of a lifetime.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A small funny film. It is totally incredible, unbelievable, impossible. But it is funny how an introverted masochist can become totally dependent and mesmerized, even hypnotized by a girl he hardly knows but who was able to get down into his phantasms. Of course it is a denunciation of the foolish deals you can get to on the Internet. You must not believe ten percent of what you're told there and never, ever, ever accept to tie up your hands in a way or another to someone or something or some organization you do not know personally. Most of their "businesses" there are in a way or another going to fool you and raid you. But here the chap deserves being the victim of such gangsters because he is not only naive, he is absurdly silly. But then the film becomes funny because it ends up with the victim of the crooked business having the upper hand and ending up playing the same game with his victimizer and winning. One think is sure too. Security in English airports is not exactly what it should be, but I guess it's not better anywhere else in the world and even now they have tightened up all rules and regulations it is just fun to go through their procedures and foil them systematically. Then they have their vengeance by losing your luggage, a real plague on modern airports, and don't expect to get fair compensation. Or even confiscating a bottle opener or a can opener because it may be dangerous. I can see myself cutting my way through the side of the plane with a can opener. Funny, isn't it? Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
So if I order a Russian mail order bride, I'll get to have kinky sex
with a Slavic Nicole Kidman and I get to quit my boring job, be a hero,
and make off with a million bucks?
Sounds like a good deal. If you can disregard the blatant wish-fulfillment fantasy aspect and consequent predictability of the whole thing, this is a pretty good romantic drama comedy thriller, I guess. Kidman is easy on the eyes, and although Ben Chaplin is no Chaplin, he's entirely believable as the naive, romantic sadomachosist- next-door type person that he portrays. The Russian bad guys come across more as bohemians than bandits, though.
(For a better comedic take on the whole mail-order-bride biz, see the Swedish mockumentary "Screwed in Tallinn")
Modern, original, romantic story.
Very good acting of both Nicole Kidman and Ben Chaplin.
Miss Kidman does a nice job in imitating a Russian accent. Ben Chaplin is also good as the shy, dull clerk. For the men (and some women) : miss Kidman looks fantastic and is very sympathetic. I forgot what a gorgeous woman she is. It's not hard to imagine that John falls in love with her. Some unexpected turns in the story are good for the suspense. Although I hoped for a happy ending, the last part of the movie was quite a surprise for me.
Conclusion : good movie.
Les Pays-Bas : huit points.
Every time I see Nicole I like her more. I love a movie like this. A woman you just won't give up on, but she keeps breaking your heart. First movie I remember seeing like this was Of Human Bondage, the Kim Novak - Laurence Harvey version. The beefs about the correctness of the Russian spoken in this film are petty, it was good enough to fool me or anybody else who can't speak Russian, I'm sure. Funny how people miss the point. The no-goodnik Russian guys were well cast too. Finally, I have to tip my hat to Ben Chaplin, as somebody else noted, he plays a sap with great dignity, and there was definitely some heat between him and Nicole. To think, guys get PAID for that, mind-blowing.
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