Birthday Girl Review

Feb 01, 2002 | 8:32am EST

John Buckingham (Ben Chaplin) is an ordinary bank employee who lives a modest life in his small home. He is also extremely lonely. Rather than finding a mate through the usual channels he decides to order a Russian bride through an online service called "From Russia With Love " specifying that the young woman speak English. Arriving at the airport a few weeks later Nadia (Nicole Kidman) a shy chain-smoking dark-haired beauty who can only manage the word "yes" anxiously awaits to be taken to her new home. John is not happy at first. He really wanted a companion he could talk to so he tries to send her back. But once she displays her true talent in bed he changes his mind and begins to fall in love with her. All is going well until on the day she says is her birthday her two "cousins" Alexei (Vincent Cassel) and Yuri (Mathieu Kassovitz) show up. Then all hell breaks loose. Before John knows it his little life is turned upside down. First Alexei takes Nadia hostage and forces John to rob his own bank but that's only the beginning of John's misadventures. He soon discovers the real relationship between these three mad Russian scam artists--and ends up taking matters into his own hands.

The versatile Kidman finally gets down and dirty in a film. Not quite femme fatale (which she played so brilliantly in To Die For) but certainly no saint the actress throws away the glamour and her usual ice-princess persona and gives us a grungy Russian girl caught in a delicate situation. On the one hand she begins to care for the guy she is duping and on the other she has a mean-spirited Russian boyfriend whom she thinks she loves and feels obligated to obey. Even though she does a fairly convincing Russian accent the role won't be considered one of her best. Yet it is a refreshing change of pace given her more recent star-making turn in last year's glitzy Moulin Rouge. Chaplin (The Thin Red Line) also does a nice job playing the part of a straight-and-narrow guy. Little by little Chaplin's character's meek façade is chipped away--beginning with revealing his secret sexual preferences and culminating to his strong resolve to save the girl. It looks like he has fun. French actors Kassovitz and Cassel adequately play the good Russian/bad Russian characters but are pretty much left as stereotypical villains.

Girl doesn't really offer anything new to the tired plot scenario of a nebbish geek who gets his life changed for the better by a reckless woman but the script by Jez and Tom Butterworth throws in enough quirky attributes to keep the film somewhat engaging. Starting with the opening sequence with John attempting to submit an online video of himself (he states his hobbies are "running staying in going out") we know we may be in for something a little different. Another hilarious moment is when after John absconds with the money his uptight bank supervisor tells us how hard banking really is: "We are saying here's all this money. Don't steal it." Even John's reaction to being duped getting into a fistfight with Nadia isn't what we expect. Yet with all the little twists and good performances the film unfortunately still lapses into predictable fare. The motivations of the characters don't really hold up especially in the fact that John would risk everything on a girl he still barely knows. There are just too many holes in the story to make the film truly memorable.

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