After her Golden Globe-winning turn as a courtesan-with-a-heart-of-gold in "Moulin Rouge", as well as her classy portrayal in haunted-house drama "The Others", actress Nicole Kidman returns to the big screen in 2002 with "Birthday Girl". Though this British production was actually completed last year, "Birthday Girl" has managed to secure a stateside release (courtesy of Miramax Films) thanks to Kidman's newfound bankability.
Ben Chaplin ("The Thin Red Line") plays John, an insecure and quiet bank clerk who orders an e-mail-order bride from a web site called "From Russia with Love". However, when his dream wife Nadia (Kidman) arrives from Moscow a few weeks later, he notices that there has been a mistake-- though Nadia is young and pretty, she cannot speak a word of English (she answers 'yes' to every question, including 'Are you a giraffe?'). Though John's first instinct is to send her packing back to Russia, he soon finds himself comforted by Nadia's other talents (which include fulfilling his bedroom fantasies) and soon finds himself enamored by her charms. However, just as it appears that the barriers of communication are about fall, John receives an unexpected visit from Nadia's boisterous 'cousins', Yuri (Vincent Kassel, who voiced Robin Hood in "Shrek") and Alexei (Mathieu Kassovitz of "Amelie"). Not surprisingly, a hidden agenda comes to the surface.
The plot of "Birthday Girl" hits all the notes you would expect in such a set-up, though there are a few unexpected twists along the way (including a brief detour down the revenge-drama path) to keep things interesting. There is also a streak of subversive wit that underlies the film, injecting some welcome humor into the interactions between John and Nadia. Speaking of John and Nadia, though they are superb in their respective roles (Chaplin as the quiet loner and Kidman as a suitably de-glamorized version of Satine from "Moulin Rouge"), the chemistry between them seems a bit forced. Thankfully, Kidman's rock-solid performance, which includes a credible Russian accent and a hint of vulnerability, makes it worth the stay.
While "Birthday Girl" will probably not be as fondly remembered as Kidman's other recent efforts, it is still an entertaining film that showcases the actress' versatile talent. And though this mix of romance, black comedy, and suspense-thriller occasionally stumbles in the areas of characterization and plot, the film still manages to be engaging, due in large part to Kidman's sympathetic and credible turn. Sardonic yet sweet, predictable yet droll, "Birthday Girl" is a decent diversion to remedy the February blahs.