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Australia 2009
Directed by
James Harkness
100 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1 stars


It is unfortunate that James Harkness who wrote the play on which this film is based chose to write the screenplay and direct it himself (not surprisingly, he was also one of the film’s producers). Apparently the stage production was quite successful at least in its home town of Adelaide but Harkness indulges himself far too much by keeping the play’s text pretty much intact. What might have worked in the abstracted context of the theatre sounds amd looks painfully contrived given the real-life setting to which it has been transposed.

The story concerns one day in the intersecting lives of group of characters: largely, two brothel workers, M (Natalie Eleftheriadis, who played the character on stage and was also one of the producers), Lily (Kestie Morassi), M’s client, Father Phillip (Travis McMahon), and a nervous young man (Richard Wilson). The subject matter is the unholy alliance of sex and love in some of its various forms. Not an easy topic to write about effectively and one can applaud the attempt to tackle it, but however this might have played on stage, in this form it is rambling, ponderous, and at times almost laughable in its pretence to candour (interested parties might compare it to Mike Nichols’s 2004 film, Closer, which was also from a stage play and suffered from comparable credibility problems, albeit not as comprehensively.)

Whilst Wilson and McMahon are painful, the female leads come off slightly better although given the unwieldy dialogue it is hard to believe that any actor could have made these characters convincing. To make matters worse, Harkness seems to have told them to hesitate a lot in their delivery so as to indicate their soul-searching angst. The result is a tediously slow plod that limps along, the editing listlessly switching from one narrative thread to another with no apparent dynamic. About all that can be said in favour of Birthday is that it is well-photographed.




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