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This goes to all the part-time losers out there, those who just need a bit of action in there lives to move out of loser-dom and into the realm of the general public. The net is a haven for loser-types, who can wander aimlessly through cyberspace pretending to be whoever the hell they want for as long as they can before their mum calls and asks them to hang out the washing.

I was a bit of a loser once, and arguably still am depending on whom you talk to (ie – don’t ask the staff on the site). But a film like this one gives us all hope that we end up with a Russian speaking sexpot when we venture into the coveted mail-order bride business. One can only hope. But I digress, so on to the review.

John (played by the underrated Ben Chaplin) is a bit of an everyman. He works as a straight-laced bank teller, is very unlucky (or just untouched) in love and has a strange ant problem in his countryside home. We first meet John when he is compiling a tape for a mail-order bride company, appropriately title From Russia With Love. Here we realise he really is a bit of a loser, and instantly want him to succeed. And he does, in a way.

Nerd alert

When John turns up at the airport we can see the look of excitement and desperation on his face, which turns to heart-breaking disappointment when the arrivals gate is clear of any passengers. Thankfully John turns around to find the rather odd-looking Nadia waiting for him, bags in hand.

It’s soon apparent during the drive home that Nadia doesn’t speak a word of English, smokes like a chimney and has a habit of throwing up. It doesn’t take Einstein to realise what the latter trait means, but naïve John is genuinely concerned, even though he’s pretty bemused by the fact that the mail order company sent him a Russian woman who has no grasp of the English language, save for the word “yes”.

Despite several attempts to call the company John can’t get through, leaving him in a bit of a conundrum. This is made worse by the fact that Nadia, although she can’t speak English, takes great delight pleasuring an unsuspecting John in the best way possible. John wisely let’s her stay a little longer.

Thanks to a Russian-English dictionary Nadia manages to spit out to John that it’s her birthday, so naturally he throws her a party, albeit in particularly nerdy style. And that’s when the story is turned on its head. Two of Nadia’s Russian buddies crash the party and generally make a nuisance of themselves, leading to a series of problems for lowly John.

It’s strange that the turning point in the story is where things really begin to slow down. The pace of the film in the beginning is quite brisk, with the introduction of John and the realisation of his situation with Nadia revealed to the audience in the first half hour. But by the third act things have ground down to what is almost a grinding halt when they should really be picking up another gear. Still, there’s enough interest in the story and how the anti-hero John is going to fare to keep you entertained.

Ben Chaplin plays John with a restrained brilliance which really helps to endear him to the audience. Kidman, who isn’t afraid to look very unlike her angelic real-life self to portray an interesting character, ably supports Chaplin and shows off her range of skills as the Russian speaking Nadia. Her Russian sounds perfect, though admittedly she could say “I like flying upside down” and I’d think it was prophetic, such is my grasp of the language.


Ironically the two Russian gatecrashers are played by Frenchmen Vincent Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz, who are quite convincing in their roles. Which is just as well because those four round out what is basically the whole cast save for a few workers at John’s bank.

There’s nothing all that special about the story but the opening half hour will most definitely drag you in for the ride. The relatively short running time helps too, and shows that the writers squeezed every bit of life out of the tale. Thanks to Chaplin mainly the film sputters along happily like his little orange car but ends up slowing down a lot towards the end. Kidman lends a hand to get this one over the line, meaning a quiet night in with Birthday Girl is quite enjoyable.

The film is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 and generally looks quite impressive. The greens of the English countryside are rendered quite well, as is the detail in and around John’s small house. There’s a bit of grain around in various scenes but on the whole it’s not all that distracting. Colours are deliberately muted but the sharpness is maintained throughout. A decent transfer again from Roadshow who continue to come up with the goods for most of their new releases.

A strange choice, however, is the use of burnt-in subtitles for this release, after Roadshow chose not to include them in the Region 4 print of The Fellowship Of The Ring. With so much Russian the subtitles become important and it’s weird to see the yellow text appear in the picture as opposed to your player’s default subtitle stream. Some may like it, but I thought the yellow burnt-in titles were a bit of an odd decision.

French Russians

Included on the disc is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which provides surround effects in all the usual places such as the airport, during the storm and on the road. Other than that there’s very little to report on the effects front as most of the action takes place in the front speakers.

The musical score is provided by a man named Stephen Warbeck, who has a decent array of films under his belt as a composer, including Billy Elliot and Shakespeare In Love. It’s a very subtle mix on this film but does the job of providing a back up for the rather strange goings on in the story. Dialogue is clear at all times, making this a soundtrack that’s very easy on the ear.

Very little in the way of extras for this release, which is disappointing for a decent film such as this one. First up is a six-minute behind the scenes featurette on the making of the film. This is pretty standard fare, complete with interviews, behind the scenes footage and clips from the film. It’s presented in full frame but is worth a look just the once.

Next is the surprise inclusion of the Something Stupid video clip with Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman. I say surprise because the song has nothing to do with the production at all apart from the fact that it’s got Nicole Kidman in it. Nevertheless it’s a decent addition to the disc and helps beef up what is a pretty slim extras package.

Rounding out the supplements is the theatrical trailer and cast/crew biographies, leaving us wanting more in the way of extra footage and behind the scenes material. A commentary from Director Jez Butterworth would’ve also been worthwhile, but one can only dream as there’s very little to get excited about in the extras section.

Happy birthday!!

Birthday Girl is certainly not a bad film and will definitely suffice for a light drama rental. Whether you buy the disc or not will undoubtedly depend on your enjoyment of the film as there’s nothing remarkable in the way of video, audio or extras to entice you to part with your hard-earned cash. Watch it for a brilliant performance from Chaplin and the constantly solid Kidman.