You are young John (Ben Chaplin), bank clerk in a small English town; painfully shy, insecure with girls and yet consumed with lust and its attendant guilt. What do you do? Why, you go on the internet to From Russia With Love dot com and get yourself a pretty Russian bride. And who shows up at Heathrow? None other than the insanely luscious Nicole Kidman. Are you lucky or what?
Well, yes and no. For one thing, Nadia, for that is her name, does not happen to speak English. Her vocabulary is limited to the one word she knows: Yes. Of course that's not bad at first, for when she finds his secret stash of bondage magazines she is all too willing to try it for herself - and him, of course. But then one day her cousin Yuri (Mathieu Kassovitz) and his friend Alexei (Vincent Cassel) show up - just visiting, apparently, for a few days. Except they're not, and the film now takes a dark turn into some very nasty corners. For one thing, Nadia is not who she seems; she is not Nadia, and she can now speak English. And Yuri and Alexei are most definitely not what they seem either; the remainder of the film is a heist-and-escape-and-double-cross chase that nearly destroys the invention and wit of the first part.
The film was directed and co-written (with his brother) by Jez Butterworth, and it is a great shame that they ran out of ideas halfway through, because Chaplin and Kidman have good screen chemistry and might well have made "Birthday Girl" into an international hit. As it happens, not many actors could survive that sudden plot lurch, but Kidman manages it gloriously. She has the ability to carry off accents without self-consciousness, speaking both fluent Russian and accented English perfectly, and without even appearing to try she conveys the very essence of sexuality.
Kidman is tall, with a tomboy's athleticism (she's 5'10", and reportedly said of her divorce from Tom Cruise, "Now I can wear heels again"), and she has the ability to envelop herself inside her roles. In the past year she's done three films (actually "Birthday Girl" was completed two years ago and held up by Miramax until now) that have a greater range than that of any other leading actress today: "Moulin Rouge," in which she plays a singing, dancing courtesan; "The Others," in which she is a compulsively protective mother; and this role, which might in other hands have become just a caricature or a cartoon figure. Instead she has made a believable, if wondrously luscious, character who allows us to see her as a human being.
"Birthday Girl" is only about half a movie, but Kidman almost makes it all worthwhile.