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An Anticlimactic Story Seen Before — Birthday Girl (Film Review)

2 min read

To celebrate her daughter Cille's 18th birthday, her mother Nanna, pays for her and her friend Lea to go on a cruise. At first the trip is filled with laughter, dancing, and drinks, but on the first night Cille is found on the upper decks of the ship alone with no underwear and bruises. Claiming she has no memory of what happened but sure she was sexually assaulted; Nanna becomes determined to find out the truth and find the attacker.

The film very much rests on the shoulders of Trine Dyrholm who plays Nanna the mother desperately trying to find answers. Dyrholm is captivating in her role, acting as our guide through a parent's nightmare. She very easily slips into the irresponsible mother who just wants to celebrate with her daughter being on a mission she knows she might fail; she carries the film and does it well. But despite the great performance, the film does, at first, feel like a paint-by-numbers story. Young girls acts recklessly, its discovered she was raped, but she is blamed for putting herself in the position, mother takes action to find out the truth. It is the last story beat where Birthday Girl picks and becomes far more intriguing to watch.

A boxed-in thriller can easily hype up the tension, making every minute feel like someone is going to break. Creating that intensity on a gigantic cruise ship is cleverly maintained with barely any wide shots and emphasising the smaller closed-in spaces. Cabins, and booths inside the lower decks are places underneath the shiny shopping and spa decks or the pools outside. The intense scenes are not played as shocking moments but feel like protocol, handled by the ship's staff. There are no revelations, no dramatic stirring music, everything is played as matter of fact. This detaches you from the very real gut-wrenching situation Nanna and Cille find themselves in. Even in the later scenes where Cille confronts her attacker, these moments aren't overdramatic, yet the fall most definitely is.

While Birthday Girl is not a unique story, we've seen this told many ways in previous films and TV shows, it does try to offer a very different ending. In a ‘blink and you'll think you missed something' moment, the ending feels abrupt and yet there doesn't seem to be any other satisfying conclusion. Cille and Nanna get their answers and a secret that they'll share forever, but the more trivial part of the story are left open. What will happen with the mother-daughter relationship now? Will Cille break up with her controlling boyfriend? Is Cille and Lea's friendship ruined? The climax of the film is what sets it apart, but in order to get there you have to sit through genre story beats.

Birthday Girl is available on Digital Platforms 17 June. Distributed by .