The premise of “Birthday Girl,” directed by Jez Butterworth, sounds pretty lame: A man orders a Russian mail-order bride who is not quite what he expected. Once the story begins, however, you may think otherwise, simply because the director”s style seems intriguing and unique. But this change of expectation may fool you except for Nicole Kidman, the film has few redeeming aspects, mostly due to a lack of dialogue and a random and disconnected plot that just doesn”t flow right.
“Birthday Girl” begins by portraying the dull and painfully normal life of John Buckingham (Ben Chaplin), who is a banker in the small town of St. Albans, England. Feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with his life, he resorts to ordering a bride over the computer, where he can choose the looks and attributes he desires. When he goes to the airport to pick up his new wife, he finds that she doesn”t even speak English. Knowing there must have been a mistake, he tries to call the service about the problem, but after several attempts and no response, he tries to live with the strange, shy woman named Nadia (Nicole Kidman). Because of the language barrier, their relationship consists of curiosity about one another, along with lots of sex. Nadia is also surprised to find a pile of sadomasochistic magazines hidden under his bed, and after reviewing the “material,” she incorporates such behavior in bed. It is the little things like this that just make the film unique, yet the significance of such elements is questionable.
Kidman does an excellent job with her role, and she impressively pulls off a Russian accent. Her mysterious character keeps the audience involved, but one may be disappointed with the direction the story takes. It just doesn”t seem right. After Nadia struggles to express to John that it is her birthday, he makes her a cake and prepares for a special night. Much to his surprise, however, two Russian men flurry in for a surprise visit to help celebrate her birthday. Claiming to be Nadia”s buddies, Yuri (Vincent Cassel) and Alexei (Mathieu Kassovitz), stir up the place with booze and excitement, with John converned over who these guys really are, and what”s going on.
Nadia seems quite pleased, however, so John reluctantly agrees to let the guys stay for a little while. In what ends up to be the worst mistake of his life, John soon realizes the trio, including Nadia, had scammed him for money all along, and Nadia had simply used him as part of their plan. It turns out the three of them had been going around doing this all over Europe with different men, and Nadia, who turns out to be named Sophia, had always played the role of the mail-order bride.
After John is forced to steal money from the bank, he is tied up and left in a hotel bathroom. At this point, the film loses any potential it had, and all built-up suspense is deflated. This is simply because there are few additional surprises, and Chaplin”s character hadn”t been developed enough to warrant any audience insight after his tragic realization. The end has an interesting twist, but nothing good enough to outweigh the inconsistent and flawed sequence of events. Yuri and Alexi are definitely an integral part to the story, yet they are not that interesting to watch. Their performances are mediocre, and they seem to detract from what the story is “really about,” although you can”t quite understand that either. All in all, “Birthday Girl” is dark and mysterious but not impressive enough to be considered outstanding.