Birthday Girl

Nicole Kidman, Ben Chaplin. Directed by Jez Butterworth.
Running Time: 93 mins
Rated: M
We have to hand it to 'our Nicole'. Just when she could exclusively appear in big-budget blockbusters, she appears in smaller, cheaper films like Birthday Girl. The upside is that the script provides her with more greater dramatic material than many Hollywood epics.

John (Chaplin) is a steady, ordinary Brit, living in the Midlands. He has worked in the bank all his adult life. John has been so unlucky in love that he resorts to an Internet mail-order site in Russia to find his perfect match. John chooses Nadia (Kidman). On arrival, John discovers that Nadia cannot speak English. He wants to send her back, but Nadia is kind, submissive and highly sexual, so John decides to defer her dismissal and see how things develop.

Unexpectedly, Nadia's cousin Alexei (Vincent Cassel) and his friend Yuri (Mathieu Kassovitz) turn up and move into John's house. When John orders the boys out, they take out their revenge on him by forcing him to rob from the bank that he has loyally served for ten years.

Birthday Girl is a light, bitter/sweet story of deceit and the turning of tables. Given that Nadia does not speak in this film for 20 minutes and does not speak English for 55 minutes, we get to see how expressive Kidman's body and face really is. To my untrained ear, her Russian and accented English are both very convincing. Chaplin's John is appropriately dithery and innocent until crossed and then he is a justifiably torn between love and anger at being betrayed.

The Butterworth brothers have done a good job on the script, highlighting all sorts of small details that become important as the tale wears on. There is more than a little homage to Quentin Tarantino by director Jez Butterworth in the shocking violence he portrays and the regular use of the hand-held camera. Both these features wear thin.

The only major gap in the plot comes when Nadia goes with John to the Police Station. It's a stretch for us to accept that an operative for a Russian organised crime gang would peacefully front up to the Bill.

That aside, Birthday Girl is a small-scale, character-driven film, which does not overstay its welcome and leaves us wondering how it will all end.

For those of us with an eye for details, it's fun to spot the Australian locations this English film has used so well.

Richard Leonard SJ

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