Tuesday, September 06, 2011

'Birthday Girl' Suffered From Bad Timing

If a movie made its debut at the theaters 10 years ago today, such scheduling probably could be seen — in hindsight — as bad (but not intentionally so) timing, to say the least.

The promoters couldn't possibly have known about it ahead of time, but 10 years ago, of course, Muslim extremists hijacked and crashed four commercial airplanes, killing some 3,000 people in the process, and my memory is that Americans weren't doing much in the aftermath of that event — beyond going to work and coming home afterward.

At least, that would describe my daily routine for several months after the attacks.

I can't speak for everyone, obviously, but I know I wasn't going to see any movies in September 2001 — or in the following months — and my guess is that a lot of other people weren't going to the movies in the autumn of 2001, either.

That's just a gut feeling. But I remember that tourism in general was struggling (in fact, things got so bad that George W. Bush actually made a televised appeal for people to go back to amusement parks and other tourist attractions), and so were other forms of entertainment.

"Birthday Girl" may have gotten lost in the shuffle.

It hadn't started showing in theaters when the planes crashed into buildings in New York and Washington.

It did make its debut on this day in 2001 — but at the Venice Film Festival. It started showing in U.S. theaters in February, when much of the shock had worn off — but consumers were still somewhat wary.

The movie was made on a budget of about $13 million. To date, its revenue has been a little more than $16 million worldwide. That is comparable to the box–office performances I have seen from other films that were released around that time.

In early 2002, a lot of people still weren't comfortable in many public settings.

While it tried to be a crime thriller, "Birthday Girl" was also a love story and a comedy — which tells you most of what you need to know. I felt it tried to be too many things, that it needed to focus on doing one thing really well.

It was a modern twist on the old "mail order bride" theme — the man who was looking for love (Ben Chaplin) made the arrangements for his Russian bride on the internet. His bride (Nicole Kidman) was very beautiful, but she had a dark and mysterious side that led to some rather serious problems.

I guess that was the biggest problem for "Birthday Girl" — the fact that, at its core, it was a romantic comedy that leaned to dark comedy — and tried, too often, to be a thriller.

Consequently, it always struck me as being out of balance — too much comedy in the first half of the movie, too much of a thriller in the second half.

If the writers had settled on which kind of movie they wanted, it probably would have been much more effective.