Finish what you start

Birthday Girl starts with solitary English banker John (Ben Chaplin) sending away for a Russian mail-order bride, Nadia (Nicole Kidman). They find that they do not share a common language - John calls the agency to try to send her back, but cannot get a hold of anyone. With fits and starts, they begin to know each other, finding a way to relate despite the wall of communication they have.

And then her birthday rolls around, and two old friends of Nadia's show up to celebrate - one even speaks English, so they actually get to communicate a little more directly. But this is when things begin to go downhill, not just for John, but for the movie in general. These two bring chaos to their home, and more than a little uncertainty to John's mind about Nadia's relationship with these two. When he tells them to leave, they turn around and hold Nadia hostage and make him rob the bank he works in.

Suffice it to say that Nadia isn't who she pretends to be, nor is the movie itself. We get mired down in this affair of who-has-the-money, and who-is-loyal-to-whom. They never actually forget the John/Nadia relationship, and appropriately hinge the end of the film on it, but the results are so close to the edge of trite, I can't help but think I've seen the same movie a dozen times previously.

Kidman's accent and pronounciation are rather convincing and she's fair enough to look Russian, but occasionally I get a glimpse of her celebrity and it breaks the spell. I suppose it's not really her fault, but they could have worked a little harder to make her look in the film unique. Chaplin makes a suitable foil, but the script sacrifices depth for its too easy ending that fails to address some important questions raised in the film.

It's almost as if the first act and the rest of film come from different writers. There is care and patience at the start, and then a too-casual treatment thereafter of what could have been compelling material.

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