Birthday Girl (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

A lonely British guy orders a Russian mail order bride. He wants a woman who  speaks English and doesn't smoke. The woman who shows up doesn't speak a single word of English, and smokes more than a working model of Mt St Helens in a Hungarian coffee shop.

NUDITY REPORT

Nicole Kidman shows her buns when she gets out of bed, and briefly in bed.

She is also seen bathing in a stream, wearing bra and panties or a skimpy bikini

Lonely guy intends to file an immediate customer complaint, package up his new bride and return her back to amazon.ru, when it suddenly dawns on him that she has certain advantages "as is". Paramount among these plusses would be the facts that (1) she looks like Nicole Kidman (2) she shows a sincere interest in re-enacting the Kama Sutra page by page (3) the only English word she knows is the right one  - "yes" (4) he picked up a ton of frequent flyer miles by shipping her from Russia.

Given these developments, he decides not to apply for his refund, and keeps the flyer miles toward the purchase of some things vital to life in a quaint English outpost, like a new bicycle and some blood pudding.

Is this starting to sound exactly like Mississippi Mermaid and Original Sin to you? That's what I thought, but this plot has other twists in mind. There has been no substitution. Kidman is really the woman who placed the ad, but she lied about many things, isn't at all what she claims to be, and has several friends in on the con. Two of her "cousins" show up at Lonely Brit's house soon afterward, and the game of cat and mouse is under way.

Soon Kidman is tied up, with one of the evil Russkies holding a knife to her throat, and Lonely Brit must come up with a ransom to save his "bride's" life. Is she in on it, or is she really their victim? Lonely Brit doesn't really care that much either way, since his previous life sucked, and it's worth the risk of betrayal on the off-chance that he can spend the rest of his life re-enacting the Kama Sutra with Nicole Kidman. Of course, he doesn't have the kind of money they are demanding, so he does what any of us would do in that case - he robs his own bank. What I've described to you is only 40 minutes of the film. It gets much more complicated after that when the four of them go on the lam.

DVD info from Amazon.

Behind the scenes featurette
Music video
Widescreen anamorphic format, 2.35:1

It sounds like a bleak noir on paper, but it is actually an offbeat black romantic comedy, if there is such a thing, and it even has a touch of sweetness toward the end.  

This isn't a great film, but it provides a different kind of experience if you have a taste for something unusual. It leads in you one direction, gets you to believe it is a predictable genre film,  then veers of in a completely different direction and maintains a completely different tone. You might find that irritating, or you might find it fascinating.

Tuna's thoughts

Birthday Girl (2001) lost me before the opening credits, when Ben Chaplin stuttered and tripped over his tongue trying to record a message on his mini-cam to his prospective Russian bride. This is, in fact, a very real phenomenon. There are a host of attractive and talented  Russian women looking for a US husband. The site www.cherry-blossoms.com is devoted to mail order brides, and makes for some interesting reading.

Most of all, Chaplin wants a woman he can talk to. When Kidman arrives, she doesn't speak a word of English. The film dragged on for several predictable scenes in which Chaplin tries to send her back, they become intimate and he decides to keep her.

Finally her "cousins" arrive and all of a sudden the film took off in a direction I never expected, and held my interest through to the end. While it is billed as a sexy thriller, I think edgy romantic comedy would be a better description. Kidman is definitely on top of her game, giving a believable performance. Chaplin plays the part of a boring banker, and is suitably boring.

A better approach to the first act of the film would really help it because the last two acts have a lot going for them. I ended up enjoying the film despite a very bad start.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4, filmcritic.com 1/5, BBC 4/5.

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: a bomb. Miramax tried a 1000 screen roll-out, but the $5 million gross came far short of their expectations. The budget was $13 million.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C-.

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