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Birthday Girl (2001)
Birthday Girl is a 2001 British-American drama and crime film directed by Jez Butterworth. The plot focuses on English bank clerk John Buckingham who orders a Russian mail-order bride, Nadia. It becomes clear upon her arrival that Nadia cannot speak English, and early into her stay, two mysterious men come to the house claiming to be her cousins. The film features Ben Chaplin, Nicole Kidman, Mathieu Kassovitz, and Vincent Cassel. English and Russian are spoken interchangeably in the film. John Buckingham (Ben Chaplin), a lonely St Albans bank clerk, orders a mail-order bride Nadia (Nicole Kidman) from Russia on the Internet. John is uncomfortable and shy, but Nadia is sexually bold. Though Nadia cannot speak English and John cannot speak Russian, they soon bond. Later on, a man she introduces as her cousin Yuri (Mathieu Kassovitz) and his friend Alexei (Vincent Cassel) turn up to celebrate her birthday. Alexei soon shows that he has a temper. After a violent altercation, Alexei holds Nadia hostage and demands a ransom from John. John has grown to care for Nadia and is forced to steal from the bank where he has worked for ten years.
Chaplin plays John, a British bank clerk who has accomplished everything in his life except for finding true love. As the film opens, he is rehearsing his life script in front of a Webcam for a Russian online mail-order bride service. He's finally had enough of the dating world, so he reaches out halfway across the globe to find a wife.
After combing through his bridal options, John finds his ideal match in Nadia (Nicole Kidman -- who wouldn't!?), but contrary to what he's been told, when his new wife arrives, John finds out she does not speak a word of English. Clearly uncomfortable, John wants the mail order service to take her back. But, that wouldn't be a movie! So instead of getting rid of this woman, he buys her a dictionary and somehow she is able to tell him it is her birthday. (If I were planning to marry someone, I'd at least know when her birthday is.) Nadia wants a party. Just as John presents her a cake, her Russian cousin Yuri and his friend Alexei arrive with Vodka... and their bags. They're not just there for the party; they're moving in!
Sadly, John does not catch on. Then, he wakes up one morning to find Nadia tied up in rope and Alexei wielding a knife. Now we are starting to get John's attention. Alexei threatens to harm Nadia if his demands for money are not met. Believing he has no other options, John retreats to his bank to rob it, never occurring to John to call the cops from the bank. He robs it, they flee in Johns car, and make it to a roadside motel where John learns that Nadia, Alexei, and Yuri are actually clever associates that have conned him. After a spending a few days tied up, John escapes and finds Alexei and Yuri gone. But Nadia has been left behind. This makes no sense; the gig is up. John already knows the plan. Why is she still there? The three of them should be halfway back to Moscow.
But then again, there is little sense to be made of Birthday Girl. How are we supposed to identify with John when there are so many common sense plot holes? In fact, how are we supposed to even follow the movie with so many gaps in the story? Here are just a few examples: John goes back to work just days after Nadia's arrival even though he is upset about being deceived on her lack of English skills. Somehow, though, he has no problem leaving her home alone in his house while he is at work. After the bank robbery, the news spreads through the area, yet a coffee shop waitress does not recognize him as a fugitive. John's getaway car sits in front of a hotel where he is being held captive for two days and the police do not find him. When he brings Nadia to the airport at the end of the film, he encounters police, security, and customs agents yet he goes unnoticed.
And why doesn't John just turn them in? He has ample opportunities to rat on these con artists. He even drags Nadia into a police station with the intentions of giving her up and exposing the fraud, but he doesn't when he finds out she is pregnant with Alexei's child. Now that is desperate to find love.
There are no answers to any of these mysteries, only lopsided questions. Is Birthday Girl supposed to be the farce of a movie it has made itself into or were we really supposed to believe this crock of a story. Hell, I knew I was being conned just from hearing Kidman's attempt at a Russian accent.
Birthday party in action.