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British bank clerk John Buckingham (Ben Chaplin) is thin, single, neat and unlucky in love. No, not gay, just dead boring, and so desperate for female companionship he orders an English-speaking, non-smoking Russian mail-order-bride. What he gets is Nadia (Nicole Kidman), a non-English speaking chain-smoker. John's first instinct is to return her to sender, but decides to keep her after she obligingly satisfies his every bedroom fantasy. When Nadia's "cousins" Yuri (Mathieu Kassovitz) and Alexei (Vincent Cassel) show up unannounced on Johnís birthday, Nadiaís true identity is revealed. She's part of a scam trio who blackmail John into robbing his own bank for them.

Review by Shannon J Harvey:†
Curiously entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying, Birthday Girl is an odd little independent-style studio feature. Simultaneously funny, sad, romantic and tragic, it jumps from one emotion to another and is hard to pinpoint as a romance, drama or thriller. You get a bit of everything here, as the plot meanders from John's cosy existence to Nadia's upsetting arrival to their falling in love to the chaos that her cousins bring. From there, an outrageous bank-heist plot sees them on the run and heading for the country, with John wondering why he should help the woman who's taken him for a ride.

It's a strange little film for such a big star like Kidman, but it makes more sense when you learn, on the DVD's slim extras, that Birthday Girl was actually made before Moulin Rouge and The Others but shelved until after their respective releases. And although Kidman isn't my favourite actress, I must admit that her beguiling central performance is the only thing that kept me interested in this befuddled affair. Ben Chaplin, on the other hand, is the emotional equivalent of Play-Doh, and although his character is written that way, it's Kidman's sassy sexpot who keeps you glued to the

A six-minute Behind-the-Scene extra has director Jez Butterworth discussing how the mail-order-bride idea came to him while surfing the net. He was astonished by the extent of the underground mail order bride business and decided to incorporate it in a picture. Not as an expose, he says, but rather as an excuse to show the importance of communication in relationships. You get the impression he's still trying to work that one out.

The cast and crew interviews are even less informative. We learn that Chaplin is as bland and boring in real life as his bank clerk character, and that Kidman had to hire her own Russian voice coach from the Russian diplomatic corps in Sydney. French actors Vincent Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz seem bemused that they end up playing Russians in British film, but as Cassel points out, dialect boundaries are easy to traverse. After all, "we all watch MTV," he says.

The highlight, however, of this very light-on DVD, is the music video for Something Stupid, the hit in which Nicole Kidman and Robbie Williams glam it up and sing sweet nothings to each other. What this clip is doing on the DVD is beyond me (it has nothing to do with the film), and it even makes you wonder how Birthday Girl may have turned out if Williams was the leading man rather than Chaplin. Hey, if Madonna, Britney, Mariah and now Eminem can do it, I'm sure Robbie will soon.

Published January 30, 2003

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CAST: Nicole Kidman, Ben Chaplin, Vincent Cassel, Mathieu Kassovitz

DIRECTOR: Jez Butterworth

RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes

PRESENTATION: 2.35:1 widescreen; Dolby 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the Scenes; Something Stupid music video featuring Nicole Kidman & Robbie Williams; Theatrical Trailer; Biographies

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: 29 January 2003

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