Finding someone to love is never easy, but in the case of BIRTHDAY GIRL, the process becomes downright outrageous and dangerous, involving the Internet, Russian con- artists, a bank hold-up, "Cats," sexual entanglements, car troubles and the ever-dry British sense of humour as romance takes a left turn into the territory of the dark comic thriller. What starts out as a tale about a lovelorn suburbanite and his incompatible mail-order bride suddenly transforms into a story about an ordinary man overtaken by a wave of crime and passion.
This is the romantic thriller as viewed by the Butterworth brothers, a British filmmaking family — including director Jez
Butterworth, co-writer Tom Butterworth and producer Stephen Butterworth -- who have lent the genre a spirited and
mischievous comic edge. The Butterworths, who made an acclaimed debut with the hip Brit-gangster film "Mojo," decided to take on a different genre this time. With BIRTHDAY GIRL, they meld the classic "opposites attract" storyline with their own distinctive style: decking it out with elements of crime and suspense; quirky, stereotype-smashing characters; sudden surprise twists; barbed but playful dialogue:
and high-energy charm in the most gritty situations.
To this, they added a colourful, equally unexpected cast that includes Nicole
Kidman taking a comic turn in the wake of accolades for the musical "Mou1in Rouge" and the sophisticated classic thriller "The Others" and up-and-coiner Ben Chaplin, who returns to his native England at last after finding success in Hollywood. By pairing Kidman as a Russian con artist with Chaplin as a mild-mannered
clerk nearly undone by her complexities. BIRTHDAY GIRL concocts a lot of cross- cultural sexual tension.
For the Butterworths, BIRTHDAY GIRL was always about communication — and the lack thereof that seems to afflict so many modem relationships. They wondered what a man might do if he sent away for a mail order bride and was suddenly confronted with a stunning woman who nevertheless couldn't speak his language, understand his culture, or make any sense at all to him . . except in the bedroom. The inevitable awkwardness, and potential for mishaps and malice aforethought, struck the Butterworths as at once humorous and high-tension— and the story took off from there.
In researching BIRTHDAY GIRL, the Butterworths became particularly intrigued by the internet-wide proliferation of websites offering Russian brides to British and American men who have been as yet unlucky in love. They became fascinated with sites on which beautiful but mysterious Russian women presented their life stories in quick video snippets that seemed to hold a lot of room for surprises. Thus, they created the character Nadia -- who emerges from an Aeroflot flight a chain-smoking, head-nodding enigma, entirely unable to speak so much as a word of English despite the promises of her mail-order profile.
In fact, the first part of BIRTHDAY GIRL is boldly told almost entirely through Ben Chaplin's flummoxed, one-sided interaction with Kidman's Garboesque shy bride. When the actors received the scripts, there was so little dialogue in the first act it seemed to have sprung from another era, except for the overt sexiness and modern situations.
"We realized that since we were dealing with two people who can not communicate by conventional means, we could only reveal John and Nadia through their physical
behavior and this was a lot of fun," explains Jez Butterworth. "We
liked the idea of doing a kind of silent film sequence in the middle of a very contemporary setting."
But once the plot begins to take off, the film's tone changes suddenly. The wordless dance between Nadia and John erupts into barbed dialogue and intense action, especially when Nadia's Russian cousins enter the picture . . . and begin to reveal her secret plans
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