ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  jez butterworth

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  drama

LENGTH  -  93 minutes

RELEASED  -  1 february 2002

DISTRIBUTOR  -  miramax pictures


ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $13,000,000
birthday girl - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from birthday girl at

buy the dvd from birthday girl at

a thirtysomething bank clerk from st albans has his small-town life exploded by the arrival of his russian mail-order bride.

this movie was originally scheduled for release in September of 2000, but was not released until February 2002.


picture from birthday girl

picture from birthday girl

picture from birthday girl


one out of four possible stars

Two people fall in love through the magic of bondage and then everything goes wrong when they become involved in a bank vault heist and have to spend the rest of the movie figuring out how to escape the bad guys and the authorities. The plot is a little muddled, but on face value, it's something that can be the basis for an interesting movie. But the execution of Birthday Girl is hampered because the two main characters don't have any chemistry with one another. It's hard to believe that "Sophia," played by Nicole Kidman, would ever fall in love with "John," played by Ben Chaplin.

And this unbelievably is the core of the problem in this film. Concerning a shy bank teller who sends away to Russia for a "mail order bride," John is surprised to find that his new bride doesn't speak a word of English. And so they try to make a marriage together through no verbal communication and some strange porno tapes. It seems an uneasy alliance at first and even when they can understand one another verbally, later in the film, there is still no chemistry between these two actors. It's hard to follow the rest of the movie when the relationship between the main two characters isn't interesting.

But if a viewer is able to bypass this flaw, the rest of the film is carried out in a standard, though not unique fashion. It tries to roll a heist, kidnapping, and a love story into one piece of celluloid and becomes somewhat disjointed as the events in the film so completely dictate what those characters are going to do next. Save one moment in the film, around half way through it, the film is plot based and the actors are acted upon in order to move the story forward. And so the film becomes, for lack of a better word, plotted. And plodding as well. The relationship between John and Sophia seems to have no bearing on what happens in the film most of the time.

And there are some scenes in the film which extend for too many minutes and could have been cut down significantly to a few sentences exchanged by the characters at the end of those sequences. For example, there is one scene that takes place in a hotel room where Nicole's character is talking to one of the bad guys, played by Vincent Cassel and most of the scene seems to be a forum for Nicole and her co-stars to display the fact that they can speak some Russian. There are no undertones present in the scene until the last thirty seconds or so, that make so much dialogue necessary.

But even though that scene is extemporaneous, Nicole and her "Russian" co-stars, none of whom are really Russian, do make a believable effort at creating their characters. Vincent and his crime buddy, "Yuri," played by Mathieu Kassovitz, not only look their parts, but they sound good as well. Though it's uncertain whether their spoken Russian is without an accent, they still play the roles well. And in considering the entire film, since the story hums along without any surprises, it is up to the actors to give the audience something interesting to focus on. And their performances, along with Ben Chaplin's, are probably the best part of the movie.

Even if the chemistry between Ben and Nicole is absent. Which seems to be the fault of the casting people rather than the actors themselves. Some people just don't seem "right" with one another. And something else, which didnít feel at home in the movie, was the bank where Ben Chaplin has a job. His co-workers' dialogue and performances seemed more awkward than they needed to be. Often times there was no music during these scenes and the performances seemed strained. And these scenes in the bank just seemed to come out of nowhere. It's certain that the screenwriter had to establish where Chaplin's character worked, since the heist takes place there, but none of the dialogue in the bank was delivered with much intelligence.

There seemed to be an effort by the screenwriter, and perhaps the director, to place a certain amount of humor in those bank scenes and others throughout the movie, but they are never really funny. Like many parts of the film, whenever the humor tactic is tried, the scenes just become out-of-sync with the pace of the film. It's supposed to be a thriller, but the bank employees and sometimes Chaplin's character, try to make jokes and they just don't work. In the end, this film is a strange English import which seems to be made of several mis-matched parts and it is easy to see why Miramax Films, its US distributor, brought it to the screen so late.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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