If you’re a regular CineWhore reader, you will notice I haven’t been having much luck with Nicole Kidman movies of late. How does an actress who has done such stellar work in films like The Hours, The Others, and Moulin Rouge spiral toward a career meltdown like the one she has had? I’m sure the premise for Birthday Girl was quirky and interesting back in 2000 when the film was released, but in watching it now, it feels dated. The movie belongs to a wave of indie films that came out during the 90s and early 2000s that were off-beat for the sake of being off-beat. Actors loved to play in these movies because they offered something completely different from the usual big studio fare. Over the years, however, these movies have not aged well and Birthday Girl is among the casualties.

The film is about a lonely, socially awkward bank clerk (Ben Chaplin) in London who, unable to find a girlfriend let alone a wife, decides to go online and buy himself a Russian mail-order bride. Enter Nicole Kidman, who plays the Russian bride. At first, she does not speak any English and the clerk believes there must have been a mistake when he made his order because he thought he would get someone who at least understood some English. However, he begins to warm up to the bride and things appear to be going well for the couple. Until the bride’s Russian friends show up one day at the clerk’s doorstep. The clerk soon realizes that the bride and her friends are not who they originally said they were.

Ben Chaplin. The reason why his career never really took off is because he is probably the most boring, unemotional actor I have ever seen on the silver screen. No charisma, no charm, nothing. He is wallpaper and its a disgrace for him to share a famous last name with one of history’s greatest actors and comedians. Admittedly, his bank clerk character is supposed to be a dull person so I may not be entirely fair in my criticism. However, I have seen him in one other film and he PLAYED THE SAME CHARACTER. If Chaplin has any range as an actor, he did a pretty piss-poor job in showing it in the roles he picked.

Despite the poor quality of Birthday Girl, Nicole Kidman holds her own as the Russian bride. I was quite amazed she learned Russian for her role and spoke it as if she was native in the language. Kidman does a good job with the material she has been given, which is not much. I felt the strongest scenes in the movie are hers and those containing Vincent Cassel. I wish the story had only focused on Kidman and her cohorts rather than the dull plotline we got with her and Chaplin. This brings an important point: there is absolutely NO chemistry between Chaplin and Kidman. I don’t know if it was the choice of actors or the writing of their characters or both, but you don’t give a shit about whether or not these two people get together.

One of the bright spots of Birthday Girl is Vincent Cassel. You may be unfamiliar with Cassel if you mostly watch mainstream films. Cassel is a noted French actor (married to the beautiful Monica Bellucci) who usually plays crazy, psycho baddies (see Eastern Promises). He never fails to spark the screen and its always a treat watching him perform in anything he does, even in films that completely suck.

Birthday Girl is simply not a good film. Its not even worthy of a late-night cable viewing. It offers nothing you have not seen before and its a throw-away film that belongs in the giant heap of forgettable, crap movies. If you like Nicole Kidman, stick to her tried and true classics like the ones I mention above.

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