review for Birthday Girl on AllMovie

Birthday Girl (2001)
by Karl Williams review

This long-on-the-shelf feature finally earned a release slot thanks to the stellar performance of two other Nicole Kidman star vehicles, Moulin Rouge (2001) and The Others (2001). That's usually an indication of serious problems with the finished product, and indeed the sophomore film from playwright Jez Butterworth feels like a heavily edited, chopped-up affair, as if it has been repeatedly mauled by censors, studio executives, or some other authoritative figure lacking confidence in its quirky tone. Birthday Girl (2002) is not a disaster, however. At heart it's a dark romantic comedy and often a fairly solid one to boot; it simply verges too many times into thriller territory, deviating too much from its sense of self. Becoming increasingly absurd and pinwheeling back and forth between a delightfully larcenous loopiness and unwelcome attempts at evoking real menace, the film stumbles badly in its second half until wrapping up with a botch of an act three that moves the characters woodenly and without much purpose from point A to point B (the woods, then the airport, then a hotel conveniently nearby, then back to the airport). The writers simply haven't taken the time to spin their splendid little premise and characters someplace truly interesting. Either that, or those dreaded test audience responses (where do they get these people?) have dictated a reshot finale that is a dumbed-down bore. Kidman continues to be a revelation, even in a film that will likely be seen as a footnote to her banner year as an actress. There's much to like in the setup of Butterworth's film, but its payoff is too slim and he's working from a script (co-written with his brother Tom Butterworth) that hasn't yet figured out what sort of film it really is.