M (Natalie Eleftheriadis) is the highest paid of the sex worker girls at Scarlet's, but, even on her 25th birthday, it's business as usual. Instead of celebrating, her day is spent answering the silent prayers of Father Phillip (Travis McMahon), who has lost his faith and providing counsel to her colleagues, the vivacious Lily (Kestie Morassi) and troubled single mum Cindy (Ra Chapman). Amidst the demands of the no-nonsense Scarlet (Chantal Contouri), M's secret birthday wish goes unanswered, until Joey (Richard Wilson) knocks on her door; a young man who has never learned to love, or even how to kiss. But Joey also has a secret, it's his birthday too.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Set almost entirely within the (rather interestingly and even classily decorated) brothel run by Scarlet Amore (Chantal Contouri), Birthday is hardly a celebration. More like a wake, in fact, a wake for faith in God which Father Phillip (Travis McMahon) has lost, and a wake for love itself, which seems to have been killed off somewhere in the lives of our characters.
The other setting is the inside of Father Phillip's church; the juxtaposition doesn't have the effect of ironic subtext, but both environments are lit and photographed superbly by Denson Baker, from detailed close ups to effective mid shots, all in the dimly lit demi-monde of the film's ambiance.
The story is slight and struggles to maintain interest, the screenplay weighed down with dialogue that tries to fulfill some intellectual mission about the miseries of an empty existence. The editing often seems based on perfunctory whims and has little filmic rhythm, to the film's detriment.
Performances are mostly effective, notably Natalie Eleftheriadis as M, Kesti Morassi as co-worker Lily and Richard Wilson as the shy, innocent, unloved Joey. But there isn't enough meat on the characters and their dimensions are not well defined, since their action options are limited; and action, after all, IS character.
Underdeveloped it may be, but it's clear that James Harkness is reaching for something meaningful; he just hasn't reached it here.
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CAST: Natalie Eleftheriadis, Kestie Morassi, Richard Wilson, Travis McMahon, Chantal Contouri, Ra Chapman, Natasha St. Clair John, Vicki Mueller
PRODUCER: James Harkness, Natalie Eleftheriadis
DIRECTOR: James Harkness
SCRIPT: James Harkness
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Denson Baker
EDITOR: James Harkness
MUSIC: Ollie Olsen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Beverley Freeman
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Flipit Red Ent
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 2011