Thoughts on “The Birthday Cake”

I’ve joked a fair bit to my parents about the fact that they quite often when browsing for movies on their satellite set-up will choose based on who’s in it.  Sure, when browsing for movies if there’s someone in it that I recognize and like it will draw my attention, but for the most part when I do that I look at the description and see if it interests me.  So the difference, it seemed to me, was that they would look at the stars and if the movie didn’t sound bad they’d watch it, and for me I would pick it up if the movie sounded good.  For me, the stars were a bonus, and what would draw me towards taking a look, but not a reason in and of itself to pick it up.

I think my range might have been a bit broad with “The Birthday Cake”.

The star in this case is Ashley Benson, who I knew from her work in “Pretty Little Liars”.  There’s also a number of other big names like Ewan McGregor and Val Kilmer, but to be honest I didn’t really notice them.  I looked at the back of the DVD and it talked about how the main character’s father had been killed mysteriously ten years ago and now on the anniversary the main character is going to piece together what happened to him at a memorial for his father, bringing along the cake.  So I thought that it would be movie based around that memorial, with the issues being raised and different people with different agendas making what happened clear, which also meant that I thought it would primarily take place at the memorial with all of these agendas coming together.  However, most of the movie takes place as the main character wanders the streets talking to people, some of whom hint at issues with his father’s death but for the most part the main thread that is followed is that his cousin is hiding out because he got caught with some drugs and both the cops and the people he was smuggling the drugs for are trying to lean on anyone they can to find him, which since the movie is told primarily from the perspective of the main character means that they lean on the main character in a number of ways.  Which is not the sort of movie I was expected or was interested in.  Ironically, since in Canada most things are also labeled in French I could have predicted that from the French title, which is “Une histoire de Mafia” which my high school French translates as “A Mafia Story”, which is exactly what this movie is.

Now, one thing I noticed is that for a story about the Mafia and the importance and impact of family in the Mafia coupled with a story of betrayal the movie is really, really short.  It’s an hour and a half long and spends a lot of time following the main character as he wanders around the city trying to get to the memorial with his cake.  It so happens that at about the same time I watched “Scream 4” and that movie — which has a far less detailed plot and more direct character arcs and can rely on us knowing the story from the previous movies in some way — ran almost two hours.  This is the trend I’ve noted in my discussions of horror movies, with the same outcome:  there isn’t enough time to properly develop and resolve the issues, especially since it spends a fair bit of time being stylistic which takes time.

This, then, causes an issue with the big names that the DVD, at least, advertises prominently on the front and back covers.  Ewan McGregor — the one that most people will know — gets short scenes at the beginning and the end, and does some voice over narration in-between.  Ashley Benson gets a short scene as the wife of one of the main character’s friends, where the friend is actually cheating on her and their marriage is on the rocks a bit, and the two of them argue in a short cab ride over the main character’s father’s death that does nothing more than drop a hint that there was something untoward about it, which we already knew.  The memorial itself is a very short scene that culminates in the ending that actually relates to the titular birthday cake and ended up being quite obvious if you, you know, read the back of the box and/or paid attention to the movie (spoilers for the ending):  the cake was baked by the main character’s mother, and it’s chocolate which the main character couldn’t eat.  Also, due to a bachelorette party only the men in the family were at the memorial and the women weren’t.  So the only person at the party who wouldn’t eat the delicious birthday cake is … the main character.  Yes, the cake is poisoned, as revenge for them killing his father and to break up the “family”.  His father was killed for a similar issue as the cousin was being hunted for, and the cousin dies as well.

Due to the short runtime and the fact that most of it is spent following the main character around, we don’t really get the emotional connection to this that we really should.  Lots of things happen that are indeed emotional for the main character — such as a member of the family selling the cousin out and getting killed when he tries to hide the main character — but not really for us.  We only find out about what happened to the main character’s father in a very short scene right at the end.  And the prominent actors get very short scenes that they perform well but are going to be a huge disappointment to fans who picked up to watch them.  For whatever reason, they roped in a number of big names for a work that doesn’t really pull off what it’s trying to pull off.  The Mafia Story isn’t as good or well-developed as the oodles of other stories we’ve had over the years (including “The Godfather”) and the main character isn’t developed enough for us to just care about him in general, and we don’t see how his father’s death impacted him and so can’t really feel happy that he’s finally gotten a sense of closure, and the revenge that’s taken has nothing to do with him.  Ultimately, we follow him around but he has no agency and doesn’t do anything himself, which is something I dinged “Black Panther” for.  And while this movie could work as a movie about how the main character gets buffeted by fate without having any real control over the events, even that isn’t established enough to really work.

So as you might guess, this is going into the box to maybe sell if I get a chance.  This isn’t the sort of movie I’m generally interested in and is too short and doesn’t develop its ideas and themes enough to work as a general drama.  And on this one, I’m in good company as a quick look at the Wikipedia page says that it has something like 23% at Rotten Tomatoes, so I’m not the only one unimpressed by this movie.  It really does seem like a waste of a wonderful cast.

One Response to “Thoughts on “The Birthday Cake””

  1. Thoughts on “Scream 4” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] will say that in comparison to “The Birthday Cake” the movie really uses well-known actors well.  Lucy Hale of “Pretty Little Liars” is […]

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