Birthday Girl DVD Review

Cover Art & Packaging: 6/10
I’ve always been under the impression that the intention of DVD covers and movie posters is to promote the overall concept or maybe a moment of the movie that sums it all up. Birthday Girl is touted as Erotic, Thriller, etc. Everyone has their own interpretation, I simply do not think the cover images and cover text match the feel and atmosphere of the film. It’s dark. It’s comedy with a human touch. It’s clever and intriguing, I just didn’t feel the eroticism or the “thriller” slant.. I’ll watch it again in case I missed something.

The cover and simple chapter insert are average, nothing special, but not boring with the lovely face of Nicole Kidman and hypnotizing interesting dark eyes of Ben Chaplin.. oh I digress.

Extras & Features: 7/10

  • Behind-the-Scenes Featurette – Brief. Very brief semi-documentary about the making of the film. Footage of the cast behind the scenes and background on how they had to learn their lines in Russian. That is the most interesting part of this tiny little featurette. Did they call it a featurette? I would call it a Mini-Semi-Featurette. I’m not trying to be difficult, but it is a let down to see such an attempt at an innovated approach to a story be followed up on the DVD by a detached, uninvolved addon. Director Jez Butterworth discusses the film, but not in the all encompassing way that directors are getting in the habit of doing. I really hope that there is a later release of a DVD with more substantial movie lover details.
  • Something Stupid music video – Putting a music video on a DVD is still a mystery to me. I understand the connection between soundtracks, scores and the culture of music in film. I do not understand slapping a video, that is all over MTV, VH1 and every video countdown show on today’s 100’s of cable networks, onto a DVD as an extra. It’s like going shopping and having the store say, “hey you lucky customer, you get to use our carts to carry out all the products you are paying us for, and we’ll only charge you a small percentage.” Music videos are promotional, plain and simple. The fact that they add trailers for upcoming movies and DVDs is enough, we don’t need to be tricked into thinking that a video is a valuable addition to the DVD package. The purpose of a video is to promote a band or artist, to sell CD’s, not to explore the making of a feature film. Enough preaching. By the way it’s Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman singing a remake of the song, Something Stupid.

The Movie: 8/10
I was clueless when I sat down to watch this film. I had heard of it obviously via the media and mentions at awards ceremonies. I did not, however, know what the story was. When the characters began to unfold I was riveted. I love Ben Chaplin, he’s subtle and commands attention in a very quiet intense way. Kidman is a surprise in Birthday Girl. She is more relaxed, more natural than I’ve seen her in a long time. Since Moulin Rouge she has loosened up and become less “Nicole Kidman” and more involved in her character. She has, in the past, carried her own persona around with her as she floated from role to role. These days, she has a fuller range of emotions, reactions and believable interaction with other performers as one of the cast, not just as the star of the show.

I admire the cast for their display of amazing language art skills in Birthday Girl. None of them speak Russian, and yet, two French actors Vincent Cassiel and Mathieu Kassovich along with Australian born Kidman all give seemingly flawless full on Russian speaking performances. And it’s not just a few words here and there, they are involved in lengthy, emotionally charged exchanges that (to a non Russian speaking person) convinces you that they are fully fluent in the language they are speaking. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as you will see from the “Making of” featurette.

Ben Chaplin is wonderful as the uninspired bank employee looking for a woman with whom to share his life. His key objective is to find someone to communicate with, a lofty goal in any situation, but the predicament he gets into makes that a near impossibility.

There is a sense of originality in the first third of the film, and it stays on an interesting track, it just seems to lose some of the edge as the story progresses. Finding a good balance between what is exciting and what is interesting is a tough battle for a writer and director and unfortunately this story starts with the great advantage of being charming, mysterious and turns a bit predictable and too forgiving for what starts as a take no prisoners love story/drama/comedy/etc.

I don’t want to let many plot twists and turns out of the bag, those are for you to discover.

Even with the flaws and the sliding scale of staying interesting from start to finish, the overall film is a great change of pace from your common romance. Chaplin’s character does fall into a few common characteristics that don’t make him a stand out kind of guy, but Chaplin is what brings the role to life.

A lot of scenes are delicately balanced with excellent writing, quality performances and unobtrusive directing. Those are the more quiet, more elegant scenes that really bring this film to a notch above common Hollywood fodder.

Value: 6/10
I’ve already discussed the lack of extras, so I won’t repeat that diatribe. I will, however say that the more extras and more extensive commentaries a film company includes on a DVD the better value you are getting. The attention to detail like special packaging, exciting covers and inserts are what a lot of us like to see when we get that brand spanking new DVD. This item has none of the above. Not only are the features absent, but the price is a solid $20.00 from most sources. That is not a good value by any means. I have to knock off points for the fact that I would rather have spent $2.00 to rent it than the $20.00 to buy it. THAT is not a good value!

Over All: 7/10
If you are a movie buff, this is an excellent addition to your film collection. I personally loved the movie, the story is interesting and along with the directing style has a lot of original twists and turns. As a DVD it does not follow up with the exciting approach of the film. I am getting spoiled in the DVD arena and always hope to see the less mainstream filmmakers to make their DVD’s something as special as their films.

I would not say this is one to own if you are hoping for a lot of extras, a rental will do to see the movie and hopefully someday there will be another edition of the DVD that is a bit more spiced up for we extra/commentary junkies.

Overall Score 7/10